April 16, 2014

Putting Teeth in Ontario's Second Poverty Reduction Strategy

The Wynne Government has yet to release Ontario's Second Poverty Reduction Strategy. But there are some things we know will be in it and some things we can hope will be.

Dental care for low income households will be in the strategy. The fifth annual progress report on the PRS already announced last December:  "Our government will integrate provincial low-income dental programs for children and youth into a single new Healthy Smiles Ontario Program in 2015." 

This builds upon two things in the first PRS. One was the expansion of the Children in Need of Treatment (CINOT) program to cover youth up to age 18. It used to just go up to age 14. 

The second was introduction of Healthy Smiles Ontario -- preventive dental services for children and youth in low income households who are not covered through social assistance. When launched in 2010, Healthy Smiles Ontario was to reach 130,000 children and youth. By 2013, the Government reported 47,000 had been enrolled.

As of April 2014, the income threshold for eligibility for Healthy Smiles was raised slightly: from $20,000 to $21,513 in Adjusted Family Net Income -- with a higher threshold for families with more than one child. That threshold still seems rather low. But the Government projects it will allow another 70,000 children and youth the be enrolled. Perhaps income eligibility for the Healthy Smiles Program should be aligned with the Ontario Child Benefit, so that any child whose family receives the OCB and does not have private dental coverage could be enrolled in Healthy Smiles.

Will adults be included?
What we do not know is whether the new Poverty Reduction Strategy will include dental services for adults with low incomes. 

Brighter Prospects, the final report of the Commission for the Review of Social Assistance, recommended the Government "make prescription drugs, dental, and other health benefits available to all low income

In 2012, research by the Association of Ontario Health Centres found that there were almost 58,000 emergency room visits for oral health problems. The total estimated cost of those visits in 2012 was at least $30 million. 

The Government should redirect the spending on emergency room treatment of oral health problems into a program of preventive and emergency dental care for low-income adults. 


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