Quebec dentists threaten to leave public system unless fees are increased

The province's health insurance plan, RAMQ, covers basic dental care for children under 10 and people on social assistance, but Quebec's association of dental surgeons says RAMQ is only paying a fraction of dentists' costs.

'It's not necessary to threaten the vulnerable,' says health minister, who calls for negotiating blitz

Dr. Serge Langlois, head of the head of the dental surgeons association, says his members are prepared to leave the public system if a deal to increase fees for treating children under 10 and people on social assistance isn't reached by July 26. (CBC)

Quebec Health Minister Gaétan Barrette says he is confident an agreement can be reached with the province's dentists to provide continued dental care for children under 10 and people on social assistance, and he is offering to take part in a negotiating blitz, starting immediately.

Barrette's comments on Tuesday afternoon come in the wake of a threat by the 4,300 members of Quebec's association of dental surgeons to pull out of the provincial health insurance plan, RAMQ, if their demands aren't met by the end of August.

RAMQ covers basic dental care for children under 10 and people on social assistance, but the association of dental surgeons says it is only paying a fraction of dentists' costs.

The dentists have been without a contract since 2015, and Dr. Serge Langlois, the head of the association, said earlier Tuesday that talks are stalled, and Barrette isn't helping to move them along.

He asked that Premier Philippe Couillard get personally involved to resolve the conflict.

The dentists say there is a shortfall of 20 to 25 per cent between what they usually charge and what the government reimburses for the same acts performed on children and welfare recipients.

Langlois said this gap is coming straight out of dentists' take-home pay. 

"They will have to pay the expenses to operate their offices, and they will lose 12 per cent of their remuneration," he said.
Health Minister Gaétan Barrette says he won't give in to threats from dentists and blamed their association for refusing to present the Health Ministry with a prioritized list of demands. (CBC)

Barrette wants prioritized list of demands

The union said that dentists have already begun to submit paperwork to leave the public system, and the majority of them intend to leave at the end of next month if there is no progress at the negotiating table.

It's estimated that 623,000 patients would be affected if the dentists did pull out of the RAMQ program.

"It is not necessary to threaten the vulnerable of our society to cut services," Barrette said Tuesday afternoon. "That's useless in my mind."

He blamed the association for refusing to present a prioritized list of demands.

"It is time to table a list — a final list, with priorities," the health minister said. "With that, we are willing to go ahead swiftly. And that means that we could enter a blitz tonight."

With files from CBC's Elias Abboud