Health Minister Paul Davis acknowledged the government’s adult dental program is suffering from growing pains, but he downplayed the major concerns coming from opposition parties Wednesday.
NDP Leader Lorraine Michael and denturist Joan Andrews speak to reporters in the lobby of Confederation Building Wednesday. — Photo by James McLeod/The Telegram
But New Democrat Leader Lorraine Michael said the government is putting up bureaucratic roadblocks to prevent seniors and people living in poverty from getting dental work because they’re afraid the program will go over budget.
Michael started the day Wednesday by calling media to Confederation Building to talk about issues she sees in the program.
Speaking to media alongside Michael was Joan Andrews, a denturist who said that government policies are causing major problems for her clients.
“Denturists now have in excess of over a thousand clients waiting for new teeth,” Andrews said. “Nothing is being done. All these people are still waiting. I have seniors who are in old age homes looking forward to teeth who can’t get them now.”
In 2011, the government
announced subsidized dental services for people in poverty and for seniors, but then scaled back the eligibility after more people than expected came forward needing dental work.
Now, Andrews said people are getting letters from the government telling them they’re eligible, but when denturists go to get the work approved, they run up against processing delays.
“Nine months is long enough to process a claim that’s already been processed. The letters have gone out,” she said.
Michael said she wants an answer from the government on why there are all kinds of delays in the system, and budgeted money isn’t being spent.
Money left unspent
“Government has to acknowledge and tell people why that money has been left unspent while people who are eligible — have been told they’re eligible — have not been able to get the money,” she said. “Government put a cap on the amount of money an individual would get — a cap of $150 — and we believe that cap has been one of the reasons why this has happened, because the cap means that people would have to come up with the rest of the money themselves for the jobs that are being done on their teeth.”
Davis said the program did indeed go over budget when it was first introduced in 2011, and so the government put a cap on how much dental work can be claimed by seniors and people with low incomes.
Since then, the government has been tweaking the program, raising the cap, and he said it is still working it all out.
“In the second year we made some changes to it. We made some changes again this year, and when we’re at the end of the process this year and into the next budget year, if we have to make other changes we’ll do that as well,” he said.
The Liberals got in on the issue, too, Tuesday, with Liberal House Leader Andrew Parsons pointing out that the government’s cap on dental work is leading to some unfortunate side effects.
“If you need a full set of dentures you will have to live with either the top or the bottom dentures for a full year before you are approved for the second half in the next year,” Parsons said. “I ask the minister: will you revise this ludicrous cap so people on low-incomes who need dentures are treated with dignity?”
Davis said he thinks the program is fine the way it is.
“There is a maximum of a $750 funding allotment allowable to seniors who meet the requirements, meet the eligibility criteria under the Newfoundland and Labrador prescription drug program,” he said. “Over two years they can complete top and bottom. They are eligible to replace every eight years. I think it is a good program.