Hon. Brian Francis: Senator Gold, according to Sheri McKinstry, co-founder of the Indigenous Dental Association of Canada, Métis and non-status First Nations people will benefit the most from the Canadian Dental Care Plan, or CDCP. However, for status First Nations people and Inuit eligible for the Non-Insured Health Benefits, or NIHB, program, it may only cover out-of-pocket costs, and those in remote communities may not see much benefit at all.
Given this criticism and current gaps in access, what is your government doing to ensure those eligible under the NIHB, including in remote and northern communities, receive equal or better access to dental care?
Hon. Marc Gold (Government Representative in the Senate): Thank you for the question. There are a number of different aspects to it. With or without the dental care plan, you still need to live in a community where there is access to the actual services, and that is a problem, as we know, in remote and Indigenous areas, and that needs to be worked on in partnership with Indigenous communities.
With regard to the federal programs, dental care is health care and everyone deserves it. The Non-Insured Health Benefits program supports First Nations and Inuit communities, which includes coverage for preventive service treatment centres and orthodontics, and it also includes transportation costs if services aren’t available locally.
I understand that members of First Nations and Inuit who are eligible under the Non-Insured Health Benefits program can apply to the CDCP if they meet the eligibility criteria. In that case, benefits will be coordinated. This would also cover travel costs, as I think I just mentioned. It’s an incomplete and inadequate answer and more work needs to be done.
Senator Francis: Thank you, Senator Gold. According to a 2017 report by the Auditor General, First Nations and Inuit have nearly twice as much dental disease and more unmet oral health needs than non-Indigenous populations.
With this background in mind, what is your government doing to ensure that the full rollout of the CDCP does not exacerbate existing disparities in oral health between non-Indigenous people and status First Nations and Inuit?
Senator Gold: Thank you for the question. The short answer is that in order for the gap to be closed, there needs to be more services available in more communities and closer to more communities, and that will require funding and partnerships with dental schools and communities so that over time — and it will take time — that gap can be closed, as it should be.