Alberta action plan on dental fees falls short: CLHIA

While the Canadian Life and Health Insurance Association is welcoming the Alberta government’s plan to create a provincial dental fee guide, it’s calling on the province to do more to address the issue of escalating fees.

“The industry remains concerned that without fundamental change, the cost of dental care will remain much higher in Alberta than any other jurisdiction in Canada and continue to put strain on the employers who provide these plans, and their employees,” wrote Karen Voin, assistant vice-president of group benefits and anti-fraud at the CLHIA, in a recent letter to Alberta Health Minister Sarah Hoffman.

In December, the government ended its review of dental fees in the province and confirmed prices are higher and growing faster in Alberta in comparison to the rest of Canada.

Read: How do Alberta’s dental fees compare to other provinces?

“We are partnering with the Alberta Dental Association to further protect consumers by introducing a public fee guide similar to those found in every other province,” said Hoffman at the time.

Alberta Health didn’t respond to a request for information on when the guide would be available. And while posting fees for common procedures is a great step, it won’t resolve the core issue because prices in Alberta are already higher than in other provinces, noted Voin. She suggested the government needs to do more to bring dental fees in line with the rest of Canada and ensure the publication of an annual dental fee guide. 

Read: Consumerism, prevention key to countering Alberta’s high dental fees

Doing so would help make dental fees more transparent and competitive in the province, noted Voin, who also addressed concern over the role of the Alberta Dental Association and College as both the association and regulatory body for dentists in the province.

“Most other provinces in Canada have recognized that these roles and responsibilities conflict and have put in place a model that completely separates association from regulator,” wrote Voin. “The high cost of dental care in Alberta, and the demonstrated conflicts in the last few years within [the college], support the need for this separation of duties.”

The Alberta Dental Association and College has come under criticism from dentists for its strict advertising guidelines. Last year, three dental practitioners launched a lawsuit on behalf of 100 dentists against the association and college for allegedly creating a “climate of intimidation and bullying” through its advertising rules.

Read: Alberta dental costs ‘truly unsustainable’

Along with its announcement of a dental fee guide, the Alberta government also published a letter Hoffman wrote to Allan Graas, president of the association and college. In her letter Hoffman expressed concern over the strict advertising guidelines imposed on dentists and the resulting lack of transparency over fees.

“It is [the college’s] role to provide leadership to the dental professional with regard to professional regulations and member services, and to provide information and services that ensure Albertans receive safe, appropriate, ethical and quality dental care,” wrote Hoffman. “To fulfil this role, I expect that [the college] will support dental providers by providing them with clear direction on how to apply the advertising guidelines. In turn, this will provide Albertans with clear information regarding dental services and fees.”