Alberta's dental fees remain highest in Canada as provincial review continues
More than a year after the provincial government launched its review into rates for dental work, Albertans continue to pay the highest dental fees in the country.
According to the Canadian Life & Health Insurance Association, dental fees increased 56 per cent in Alberta from 2005 to 2015. During the same 10 year period, rates increased 26 per cent in British Columbia and 24 per cent in Ontario.
The Alberta Dental Association and College says that, despite the fee increase, dentists in Alberta are not making more than their counterparts across Canada.
“Input costs are a lot higher in Alberta than they are in other jurisdictions,” explained Dr. Randall Croutze, CEO of the Alberta Dental Association and College. “We pay more, just like everyone does, operating a business in Alberta.”
“We pay more for rent. We pay more for staff salaries.”
Alberta remains the only Canadian province without a dental fee guide. The province’s dentists successfully removed the system that offered a list of suggested pricing in 1997. Dentists said the majority of offices charged more than the guide's prices and doing away with the system was expected to encourage competition.
Amal Bensghir recently underwent a root canal and crown procedure and was shocked to discover her bill was nearly $4,000. Her insurance provider would only cover $1,000 of the bill.
“This was like 8% of my income,” explained Bensghir. “I needed to work every day, eight hours per day, for a whole month, actually, for more than a month, to pay for one tooth.”
Bensghir says she’d like to see dental fees regulated.
“We have no means to compare,” said Bensghir. “How can I know that he's charging me, the doctor's charging me, fairly?”
Dr. David Swann, leader of the Alberta Liberal party, say dental fees in Alberta are too high but is aginst the idea of reintroducing a dental fee guide.
"They're excluding one in five Albertans," explained Swann. "It means more and more people are going without dental care."
"This is part of our health care system and we need to be much more vigilant as government and service providers in finding a remedy."
Swann believes dentists could thrive if legislation restricting dental promotions was removed.
“Currently, dentists cannot say, I will give seniors on Thursday, I'm usually quiet then, (I will) give seniors half price today, or I'm going to make sure that children get preventative services in my office for half the usual fee,” said Swann. “They're not allowed to do that and that's just bogus.”
“People who want to, and are able to, provide reduced cost services to people, it’s essential that they be free to do that.”
While many Albertans are outraged over their massive bills, others find themselves looking for less costly dental alternatives.
Over the last two years, a dental clinic in Golden, British Columbia has been the beneficiary of a steady stream of patients unsatisfied with pricing in Alberta.
The cost of an adult new patient exam with two x-rays at the Golden Dental Centre is $65. According to Sun Life Financial, an insurance provider, a similar visit in southwest Calgary would cost $111.
The Alex dental bus continues to offer free dental work to Calgary's downtrodden but tough economic times and high prices at dental offices have increased demand for the bus’ services and the staff are unable to assist everyone.
“I've heard stories recently and we've heard these for a long time and even more so recently, of people pulling their own teeth,” said Denise Kokaram of The Alex. “We've had these stories and we're seeing children with full mouth decay in Calgary. I can tell you that that's heartbreaking.”
In a statement to CTV Calgary, Health Minister Sarah Hoffman maintains its review into dental fees is ongoing.
“We are doing this review of dental fees to find solutions that will improve Albertan’s access to dental health services. We are still working through the review, and this has included consultations with the association and other stakeholders. We will have an update in the near future.”
With files from CTV’s Shaun Frenette