New Brunswick

Province, dental society hammer out deal

The Department of Social Development and the New Brunswick Dental Society have reached an agreement that will cover 51,000 social assistance recipients who need dental work.

Agreement covers 51,000 social assistance clients

The Department of Social Development and the New Brunswick Dental Society have reached an agreement that will cover 51,000 social assistance recipients who need dental work.

The contract dispute had caused the dental society to request that social assistance recipients pay up front for work.

The talks concentrated on the amount that dentists could charge for performing dental work on social assistance clients. The four-year contract is retroactive to April 1, 2011.

Under the terms of the deal, the provincial government will pay 81.5 per cent of fees by April 1, 2014, up from the current rate of 68 per cent.

Society President Doctor Kent Orlando said it's not the 85 per cent they were hoping for, but he's pleased with the agreement that "has been struck in these hard economic times."

"My own practice, we've got a certain percentage of social development clients and we know some of them haven't been coming in," Orlando said.

"I'm just happy that we're able to see our patients again... They can get the treatment they need."

Orlando said the increase is justified.

"Dentists have been basically subsidizing their treatment to social assistance clients for so long, and as our costs of providing the treatment have gone up and the inflation rate hasn't been keeping pace, for some procedures, that meant dentists were providing treatment... at a loss," he said.

Samantha Young volunteers with the Fredericton Anti-Poverty Organization and told CBC News during the contract dispute, welfare clients such as her were unable to get services without paying up-front.

"They wouldn't do anything because, of course, their contract had been cancelled," Young said.

"I was having problems getting my wisdom tooth pulled," she said, "other dentists I went to, to ask, and they wouldn't pull them."

Social Development Minister Sue Stultz said in a statement on Monday the deal makes financial sense.

"We are pleased that we have reached an agreement with the New Brunswick Dental Society that achieves a good balance between managing the provincial government's finances responsibly and recognizing the important work of dentists," Stultz said.

The New Brunswick government is attempting to contain its spending. Finance Minister Blaine Higgs announced a $183-million deficit in his March budget.

Many government departments have faced internal cuts as the Alward government controls its spending.