The Wildrose Party is calling on the province to steer clear of price controls and focus instead on fee transparency as it reviews dental fees in Alberta.
The province announced last summer that Alberta Health would review dental fees with several stakeholders, including the Alberta Dental Association and College, to determine why fees are so much higher in Alberta than in other provinces.
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The Canadian Life and Health Insurance Association says a 10-year assessment of dental rate increases completed last fall showed that Alberta is the most expensive province to get dental care.
The study found that fees have gone up 56 per cent in a decade, more than twice the rate of increase seen in B.C or Ontario.
In an open letter to Health Minister Sarah Hoffman, health critic Drew Barnes says measures aimed at informing patients about dental fees would be better for the marketplace than instituting government-enforced price controls.
"In order for prices to operate competitively, the consumer must have as much information as possible at hand," Barnes said.
"We encourage the Ministry of Health to consult with the ADA&C on ways to increase the posting of fees for common procedures on online or at the dental clinic itself."
Price competitiveness is also being hindered by Alberta's strict limitations on advertising by dentists, Barnes says.
"We believe that all dentists should be given the discretion to set prices competitively and convey as much information as possible to the public through advertising," he said.
New governance structure needed
The Wildrose also says the governance structure of the Alberta Dental Association and College (ADAC) should be reformed.
"As it stands, the ADA&C oversees the regulation and accreditation of the profession as well as advocating and lobbying for the financial interests of its members," Barnes said.
"There is merit to the argument that we should follow the example of most other Canadian provinces and separate these different functions under two distinct entities."
Alberta's dentists stopped publishing a fee guide in 1997, arguing that getting rid of it would stimulate competition and lower prices for patients.
Even though that was not the outcome, Barnes says his party agrees with the argument, put forth by the industry, that fee schedules can actually have the unintended result of increasing costs.
"Additionally, a provincial fee schedule may not capture the very unique and diverse economic conditions that exist across the province," he said.
Alberta Liberal Leader David Swann says his party and the Wildrose agree that skyrocketing dental costs must be addressed.
"I welcome the voice of Wildrose, and all other political parties, as we fight to get a better, fairer dental system in Alberta," he said in a release.
Swann is calling for the creation of a new, independent College of Dentistry "with a mandate to protect the public interest."
Here is a cost comparison among a dozen Calgary dental offices:
12 Calgary dentists, 12 different prices: 1 hour of scaling
12 Calgary dentists' fees for a panoramic dental x-ray
12 Calgary dentists' fees for wisdom tooth extraction, per tooth*
*Note: all but one of the 12 dentists contacted gave a per-tooth cost range for simple extraction (cheapest), surgical extraction, and complicated surgical extraction (most costly) that may be outsourced to a specialist. Dentist 11 would only give a four-tooth bundled price of $1,200 over the phone.