Ontario NDP promises provincial dental plan that would ‘mesh’ with federal one

By Holly McKenzie-Sutter

Ontario’s New Democrats are promising free or low-cost dental care for all low- and middle-income families if elected next month.

The party’s plan would speed up coverage promised under a developing federal program and expand it to include more people. It also earmarks money to set up low-barrier clinics and roll out mobile dental care buses to remote communities.

“It costs a lot of money to go to the dentist, it’s expensive,” Horwath said an announcement in Toronto. “We can make sure that all families are able to access the dental care they need.”

Residents earning under $90,000 per year who don’t have insurance, children, youth and seniors would all be covered under the NDP’s plan by 2023 – speeding up the federal plan by two years.

The NDP said Ontario households earning less than $90,000 would pay nothing and households with incomes of between $90,000 and $200,000 would co-pay on a sliding scale that goes no higher than half of the bill.

The party also said the plan would save a family of four $1,240 a year on basic check-ups and filling a cavity, and if both kids need braces, the plan could save them more than $13,000.

An NDP government would invest $680 million this year to pay for their plan and once full, annualized funding flows from the federal government, the Ontario NDP would maintain its program with $380 million a year.

Horwath said she would discuss the possibility of speeding up funding for the provincial plan if her party forms government in June, but she’s committing to going ahead with her own plan regardless.

“What I’m committing to Ontarians is we’re not going to wait,” she said. “Oftentimes, these programs take a long time from the federal side to get on the ground, and we don’t think people have that time.”

The party said its plan would eventually “mesh” with the national program once it’s up and running.

The NDP hasn’t released its full platform costing yet and Horwath didn’t directly answer when asked on Thursday where the funding from the provincial dental program would come from. 

But she said it would save the province money in the long run because it would take pressure of the health system if fewer uninsured people are forced to turn to emergency rooms for dental care.

The proposal also lays out plans to expand infrastructure for dental care, with $25 million set aside for 70 low-barrier dental clinics and seven mobile buses that would bring dental care to rural, remote and northern communities. 

There are also plans to promote oral health education in schools and the party said it would look at options to offer dental care to children through schools programs. 

Progressive Conservative Leader Doug Ford reacted to the NDP’s proposal by saying a dental program already exists, citing $90-million in spending, which is the annual cost of a free dental care program for low-income seniors that his government introduced.

“We have that program in place already and it’s working well,” he said in Pickering, Ont. “We’re going to add on to our dental program, making sure we put over $90 million into dental.”

The Ontario NDP is also proposing speeding up a promised federal pharmacare program.

– with files from Allison Jones and Maan Alhmidi.