Alberta dentists ordered back to table after fee guide flop on cost reductions

Alberta’s dentists have been ordered to go back to the table to reduce the fees they charge for services by more than three per cent.

'They got the message loud and clear that three per cent wasn’t enough,' health minister said

Health Minister Sarah Hoffman said she was disappointed with a new fee guide introduced by the Alberta Dental Association and College. (CBC)

Alberta dentists have been ordered to go back to the table to drop the amount they charge for services in a new fee guide by more than three per cent. 

"I think I was pretty clear last week that I didn't believe that the fee guide went nearly far enough, and they got the message," said Health MInister Sarah Hoffman after meeting with representatives from the Alberta Dental Association and College on Wednesday.

Alberta dentists have operated without a fee guide for 20 years, allowing them to individually set whatever prices they want.  Alberta dental fees overall are the highest in the country.

Last week, the ADA&C raised Hoffman's ire by only proposing to reduce fees by three per cent in a new fee guide. The minister was also angry the association failed to share the details of the guide with her before releasing it to the public.

Hoffman said discussions will resume next week between the government and the association on how much the fees should be reduced in the guide, which serves as a benchmark for various services although listed fees aren't mandatory.

"We're happy to put our economists at the table and work with them on those details but they got the message loud and clear that three per cent wasn't enough," she said.

If the association doesn't comply, Hoffman said she has a number of "tools in her tool box" to respond, including splitting the association and the college into two separate organizations.

Alberta Blue Cross, the largest insurer of dental payments in the province, said a two- or three-per-cent reduction doesn't go far enough. In a release, the insurer noted dental costs in Alberta are 26 to 32 per cent higher than other Western provinces.

No one from the dental association was available to comment on Wednesday.  Last week, the organization's president Dr. Minto Basahti said the fee structure represents the higher costs of operations in Alberta.