Canada will soon have its first form of national dental care coverage, now that legislation implementing a benefit program for children under the age of 12, has passed.
On Thursday, the bill bringing in the dental benefit for lower-income families—known as Bill C-31— received Royal Assent and has become law.
Brought forward alongside a benefit for low-income renters, the dental benefit was an initiative sparked by an agreement between Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh.
The government has set a “target date” of Dec. 1 to open up the program for applications.
Ahead of that, here’s exactly what the “Canada Dental Benefit” includes, and how it will work.
WHO IS ELIGIBLE?
For now, the benefit will be offered to children under the age of 12, with an annual family income of less than $90,000.
According to the government, this benefit would provide payments up to $650 per child per year, depending on family income.
$650 would be provided per child if the family’s adjusted net income is under $70,000;
$390 would be provided per child if the family’s adjusted net income is between $70,000 and $79,999; and
$260 would be provided per child if the family’s adjusted net income is between $80,000 and $89,999.
The amount offered is the government’s “best calibration” of how much funding is needed to cover basic dental care—exams, cleanings, X-rays, and fillings— without much left over, according to government officials who briefed reporters on the program in September.
Should parents have excess funds, the hope is they would be put towards other dental-care needs, but there will not be a requirement to return any outstanding funding.
The program would cover expenses retroactive to Oct. 1, 2022.
The Liberals estimate that 500,000 Canadian children would be eligible to have some of their dental care covered under this plan, and are vowing that receiving this benefit will not reduce any pre-existing federal income-tested benefits such as the Canada Child Benefit.
HOW WILL IT WORK?
The first phase of dental care will provide eligible parents or guardians with “direct, up-front tax-free payments to cover dental expenses.” However, in order to access the benefit, parents or guardians need to apply through the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) and attest that:
Their child does not have access to private dental care coverage;
They will have out-of-pocket dental care expenses for which they will use the benefit; and
They understand they will need to provide receipts to verify out-of-pocket expenses occurred if required.
Applicants can submit to receive this financial support ahead of appointments, but will have to provide proof of eligibility such as contact information for the dental service provider, date of the appointment, and information related to their employer and spouse or partner related to their benefit coverage.
The now-passed bill sets up a process for bureaucrats to check this information, and there could be penalties for those who submit fraudulent claims.
“Health Canada and the CRA are collaborating closely on an application platform that would deliver payments in a timely fashion. Further details on how and when to apply for the Benefit will be communicated in due course,” said the government in a statement when the plan was first detailed.
HOW DID THIS COME TO BE?
The bill bringing this attestation-based plan alongside a benefit for renters into effect was one in a pair of affordability-focused pieces of legislation that the Liberals tabled on the first day of the fall sitting on Sept. 20.
Bill C-31 passed the House of Commons and was sent to the Senate on Oct. 27, with the support of the NDP.
Making a dental-care plan a reality was a core pledge of the Liberal-NDP confidence-and-supply deal. This initial step allowed the Liberals to meet their commitment of ensuring eligible children under 12 receive the dental care they need, before the end of 2022.
The Conservatives and Bloc Quebecois voted against the plan to enact the dental and rental benefits.
“Families are having to decide whether to pay for dental care for their kids or pay their bills. No one should have to deal with the pain or lifelong damage of going without dental care,” said Singh in a statement. “Families will very soon be able to apply to get their kids teeth fixed. And this is just the first step, we’re going to keep fighting to make sure all Canadians can access comprehensive dental care as part of our healthcare system.”
While only those under 12 years old will get first access, the government says it remains committed to following through on seeing this stop-gap measure become a fully-fledged national dental care plan.
The Liberals have promised that the program will expand to under-18-year-olds, seniors, and people living with a disability in 2023.
By 2025, it would be available to all Canadian families with incomes of less than $90,000 annually, with no co-pays for anyone earning less than $70,000 annually.
In the 2022 federal budget the federal government earmarked $5.3 billion over five years and then $1.7 billion ongoing for Health Canada to oversee implementation of the dental-care plan.