Seniors aged 72 and older are eligible as of today to register for Canada's national dental care plan, but dentists still can't sign up for the program — even though they're supposed to start taking patients in just a few months.
"I know there'll be a lot of questions around providers. Those details are in the final stages of being negotiated," Health Minister Mark Holland told reporters Wednesday.
"We're ready imminently to be able to share information with all providers, with all dentists."
It's still not clear how dentists, hygienists and denturists will register for the program, how the billing process will work and how much they'll be paid for their services.
The $13 billion national dental plan is expected to provide dental care to approximately nine million uninsured Canadians by 2025.
Invitations to enrol in the plan — which will offer dental benefits to uninsured Canadian residents with household incomes under $90,000 per year — started going out by mail late last year. Coverage is expected to start this May.
Holland said the federal government has been speaking with dental associations across the country to nail down the details.
"At the core, we want to make sure that dentists are treated fairly, that they're fairly remunerated for their services, that they have clarity in terms of how that process works," Holland said.
More than 400k seniors already signed up
The federal government is gradually mailing invitations to seniors aged 70 and up to register for the Canadian Dental Care Plan, starting with the oldest; letters for seniors 72 to 76 years of age will start going out today.
The letters contains a personalized application code and a phone number to call.
"Wait for your letters," Holland said.
In May, an online portal will open for those 65 to 69 years of age to sign up.
More than 400,000 seniors have registered so far, Holland said.
Dr. Heather Carr, a Halifax dentist and president of the Canadian Dental Association, said there should be enough dentists to meet the demand.
"It's going to depend on the area you live ... We do have some geographic issues," she said.
Carr said dentists have been pushing for a national dental care plan for years.
"But at this time, it's very difficult for them to make a decision [to take part] because there's still so many details that haven't been finalized," she said.
"But it's also most important to try to get it right. We want the administration to be simple and easy for both the patient and the offices."
Dr. Brock Nicolucci, president of the Ontario Dental Association, said dentists also want to know if patients will be able to choose which clinic they go to, and how the new plan will work alongside existing provincial and territorial dental care programs.
"We brought these concerns forward to Health Canada but we're not there yet," he said. "Our concerns are really valid and important, and we want to make sure that the government addresses them before the final rollout."
Do you have questions about how Canada's new dental care plan may affect you? Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.