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Too much hassle, too many cards to use dental assistance programs

The federal government is now joining the Ontario government offering free dental care for seniors, but some Southwestern Public Health board members feel the application process could just be automatic and that residents shouldn’t have to carry multiple cards for different programs.

At a meeting Thursday, Feb. 22, Chief Executive Officer Cynthia St. John briefed board members on the new federal program.

St. Thomas Councillor Jim Herbert, a board member, asked how residents could access the funding programs.

Program Director David Smith said that depended on the program.

In the case of the federal government, any qualifying resident would be invited to join by letter.

Those 65 to 70 years old are sent the invitations, which include an explanation of how to apply.

When residents receive a federal qualification card, they can go directly to any dental office.

Public health units administer the provincial program, and in Southwestern’s case staff help applicants fill out forms and send them to Revenue Canada.

Only those below a certain income qualify for provincial assistance.

On application, the resident is sent a card, to only be used at a public health dental clinic, not private practice.

Cr. Herbert asked what would happen if someone showed up at the health unit’s door with an abscessed tooth who hadn’t yet gone through the application process.

Mr. Smith admitted that was they would have to seek help elsewhere, such as at a local hospital.

Cr. Herbert said that needed to be fixed.

Board member Lee Rowden asked if the federal program reimbursed private dentists at their regular rates.

Mr. Smith said health unit dental clinics were reimbursed at 50 to 60 percent of what a private insurer would cover under the provincial program.

The federal program covered substantially more, at 75 to 80 percent of the cost for private dentists.

Oxford Warden Marcus Ryan, mayor of Zorra Township and a board member, lamented that between the two dental programs, qualified residents would have to carry two separate access cards.

“Why are we asking people to do all this extra work for a program that’s supposed to make it easier for them to access health care?”

Medical Officer of Health Dr. Ninh Tran said the health unit could ask the federal and provincial governments to find ways to register for assistance that were easier.

“Navigating our current health system is terrible,” he stated.

Rob Perry, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Aylmer Express