2023 federal budget proposal to require employers to report dental coverage as part of the national dental-care program will be onerous on plan sponsors and still leaves more questions than answers, says Pam Martin, vice-president and senior consultant at Baynes & White Inc.

Since dental benefits are important to an individual’s mental health, the federal government must properly roll out the program, she says, noting as dental care is expensive, many people rely on their employer-sponsored dental plans.

The early stages of the coronavirus pandemic saw a drop in dental claims due to shutdowns and people’s reluctance to seek care, but as dental offices reopened, there was an upswing in appointments. “We’re now seeing more major dental claims because many people delayed getting care at the onset of the health crisis,” says Martin. “I’m really happy the federal government is putting a plan in place for the uninsured . . .  but right now, there are so many more questions and I wish there was more of a structured detailing of how it would work.”

Read: Enhanced national dental plan to require reporting of employer-provided coverage: budget

In addition, she calls the program’s employer reporting requirement “concerning” due to a lack of details on whether employers will be expected to verify if certain employees will be allowed to stay in their plans or if they’ll have to drop them because they’re eligible for the public plan.

The government’s maximum income threshold is decided on family earnings — information that employers don’t have access to, adds Martin, noting there’s also the issue of out-of-pocket costs and whether the copay may be unmanageable for lower-income earners.

In an emailed statement to Benefits Canada, the Canadian Life and Health Insurance Association said it supports the government’s objective of providing dental care for Canadians who don’t currently have coverage. However, the association agreed the federal government should tread carefully when rolling out the program.

Read: Employers pausing benefits plan redesigns amid talk of national dental, pharmacare programs

“It’s crucial that any new initiatives do not disrupt access to dental care for the majority of Canadians who already have coverage through employer-provided health benefits,” said the CLHIA. “Canada’s insurers offer dental coverage for more than 16 million Canadians.

“In 2021, we paid out over $9 billion in dental-care expenses. Canadians highly value their existing coverage — which is generally broader than public plans — and do not want this coverage put at risk. We are still [awaiting] more detail from the government on program design, as well as requirements for businesses to report coverage on their T4s.”