Alberta to Create Fee Guide in Response to Soaring Dental Costs

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Alberta’s Health Minister, Sarah Hoffman, announced on December 8, 2016 that it will create a dental fee guide to try to take a bite out of skyrocketing dental costs. This decision was based on results of a provincial review of the dental industry, launched more than a year ago, which showed Alberta’s overall dental fees can be as much as 44% higher than in neighboring provinces. To give a specific and fairly extreme example, the review established that fees for checkups in Alberta are 146% higher than British Columbia, 112% higher than Ontario and 106% higher than Saskatchewan – over two (2) times more in cost compared to other provinces!

Alberta is currently the only province without a dental fee guide, since it was abolished in1997. Alberta’s dentists argued that getting rid of it would stimulate competition and lower prices for patients, however, patients say it’s hard to shop for the best prices because dentists are reluctant to reveal their fees until they have you in the chair. As a result, Albertans make up a large percentage of Canadians making the trip to Mexico for cheap dental procedures, according to Jann Lee in her November 15th Benefits Canada article. One clinic in Los Algodones, in fact, appears to be targeting Albertans looking for cheaper services by marketing itself through the website

There are risks, however. While Alberta Blue Cross covers out-of-country dental claims, some insurance companies may choose not to do so, says Joan Weir, director of health and dental policy at the Canadian Life and Health Insurance Association (CLHIA). Reimbursement, she notes, depends on the insurer and the agreement with the plan sponsor.

It was misuse of the guide as a schedule that led to abolishing it in the first place, says Dr. Harry Ames, membership services co-ordinator for the Alberta Dental Association and College. But, as Lee states in her article, it’s complicated in Alberta, because when the oil and gas economy was booming, “not only do we have dental plans with very unstructured fee guides that are higher than average but we also have a whole bunch of plans that have health spending accounts and dentists have caught onto that additional source of revenue”.

According to Dan Healing of The Canadian Press, thousands of layoffs that have hollowed out many of Calgary’s downtown office….have forced dentists to cut staff and get by with lower profits as they wait for the economy to turn around and employment levels to bounce back. “Our business is tied to benefits programs, whether it is people being laid off and losing those benefits or the benefit programs being rejigged by the companies,” he said.

At Alberta Blue Cross, spokeswoman Sharmin Hislop said the non-profit company is selling more individual health- and dental-care packages as Albertans lose group benefits due to the economy. Statistics Canada reports Calgary’s unemployment rate rose to 10.2 per cent in October, the highest it has been since March 1994.

“It’s clear something needs to be done about soaring dental fees in this province,” said Alberta’s health minister, Sarah Hoffman, and her recent announcement is the government’s first step in an attempt to make dental costs more affordable to Albertans.

Summarized from the following articles: Jann Lee – Benefits Canada (November 15, 2016), Dan Healing – The Canadian Press – (November 21, 2016)

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