Ontario Budget 2018

Ontario budget 2018: Don't have health benefits? The Liberals plan to change that

Ontarians without workplace health benefits will be able to recoup hundreds in drug and dental costs beginning in the summer of 2019 if the Ontario Liberals are reelected in June.

More than 4 million people stand to benefit from the plan – if the Liberals are reelected

Ontarians without workplace health benefits will be able to recoup hundreds in drug and dental costs beginning in the summer of 2019 if the Ontario Liberals are reelected in June. (Shutterstock/funnyangel)

Ontarians without workplace health benefits will be able to recoup hundreds in drug and dental costs beginning in the summer of 2019 if the Ontario Liberals are reelected in June.

The Ontario Drug and Dental Program (ODDP), unveiled as part of the provincial government's annual budget Wednesday, is targeted toward the one in four working-age Ontarians who don't currently have access to benefits, including freelancers, temporary employees and those working multiple jobs.

If approved, the province says 4.1 million people would benefit from the program at a cost of $800 million over the first two years.

Here's how it works.

An individual would pay up-front for their eligible expense, and the program would reimburse up to 80 per cent of the cost to a yearly maximum of:

  • $400 for singles.
  • $600 for couples.
  • $50 for each child in a family.

Families could choose to pool their money and determine how best to allocate it.

Details have yet to be worked out

Let's say you're a couple with three children. In that scenario, you're eligible to receive up to $750. That means if you happen to need some extensive dental work like a root canal, you could allocate all or as much of the money as you decide toward the procedure.
If approved, the province says 4.1 million people would benefit from the program at a cost of $800 million over the first two years. (CBC)

Seniors would qualify only for dental benefits. The Liberals say that's because their prescription costs would already be covered through the government's expanded OHIP+ program, announced this week, which will make prescription drugs available to those 65 and up beginning August 2019.

The government estimates that approximately 60 per cent of seniors do not have a plan that covers dental.

It's unclear whether the program would extend to those on social assistance or receiving disability payments. Further details have yet to be worked out, the government says.

Camille Orridge, a retired senior, pays out of pocket every time she sits in the dentist's chair. 

"Lots of poor people who don't have pensions, who are aging, need dental care," she said. "No dental care, especially if you are a senior, means you don't eat well and you suffer." 

Like Orridge, every visit to the dentist takes a bite out of Inder Singh's wallet. The Toronto local just started a job in the city's downtown core and is counting the days till his workplace benefits kick in.  

Still, he isn't convinced this budget promise is much more than a campaign strategy. 

"Somebody has to pay," he said. "It's taxes that the government use and ultimately who pays the taxes?"

Singh acknowledges that the benefit can be a big help to struggling families but wants the government to ensure its a fair system for everyone. 

Move follows NDP's pledge for universal care

At first glance, it seems couples with children win out over single parents under the program. For example, a single parent with three children would be eligible for just $550 — $200 less than a couple with children.

The province says children are offered less because of programs that already cover them, including OHIP+ which already provides free prescription drugs to those under the age of 25. That change, introduced in the 2017 provincial budget, took effect on Jan. 1, 2018.

Children in low-income families have had also access to preventative dental care through Ontario's  program since 2016.

Wednesday's announcement comes less than two weeks after Ontario New Democratic Party Leader Andrea Horwath pledged full dental coverage as part of a universal health care plan, branded "Ontario Benefits."
Wednesday’s announcement comes less than two weeks after Ontario New Democratic Party Leader Andrea Horwath pledged full dental coverage as part of a universal health care plan, branded “Ontario Benefits.” (Frank Gunn/Canadian Press)

Asked for her thoughts on the plan Wednesday, Horwath slammed Wynne's program as "meagre", saying it didn't go far enough and added it was more about "hype and headlines" than "substantive change."

'If it sounds too good to be true...'

Fifty dollars per child, the NDP argues, barely covers the cost of a single dental check-up or filling a cavity.

Asked about the price-tag for her plan, Horwath only would say that a "fully-costed" platform will be unveiled in a few weeks' time but that the wealthiest bracket of Ontarians will be asked to "pay their fair share."

Horwath also rejected the characterization of the Liberal budget as "left," saying it merely "left people out."

The government has meanwhile dubbed its budget "a plan for care and opportunity."

Asked Wednesday how the Liberal government's program holds up against the NDP's, Finance Minister Charles Sousa told CBC News he hadn't seen how that plan had been costed but after moving to provide free pharmacare to those under 25 and the elderly, the new plan focuses on those "in between."

"It's an important step," said Sousa. "More importantly than that, it's also enabling us to have a national discussion. We do need to have this discussion to fill in the gaps of universal care across Canada. We're going to make Ontarians better off. We want to encourage the rest of Canada to take a look at it as well."

But LouAnn Visconti, president of the Ontario Dental Association, questions the Liberals' ability to see their promise through. 

"Access to dental care is always great but if you don't have a commitment on the part of the government to fund programs that they've had in place for a few decades now, what's going to come of these new programs?" she said. 

Funding for dental programs hasn't kept up with demand since the government took over the administration of those programs in the 1990's, Visconti claims. 

For the Ontario Progressive Conservatives' part, party leader Doug Ford didn't comment on the health benefits plan directly but reiterated claims he made in the days leading up to the budget, saying Wynne's "cheques are going to bounce."

"People know that if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is."