Al­berta’s Den­tal Fee Guide fi­asco

Lethbridge Herald - - READER'S FORUM -

The pres­i­dent of the Al­berta Den­tal As­so­ci­a­tion and Col­lege (ADA&C) has an­nounced a Den­tal Fee Guide in re­sponse to the health min­is­ter’s chal­lenge to do so. The an­nounce­ment com­pletely blind­sided the gov­ern­ment, the mem­bers of the ADA&C, and even its elected di­rec­tors — some of whom had two days or less no­tice. He ex­plained that the new guide rep­re­sented a three to five per cent re­duc­tion in fees.

The Al­berta Health Min­is­ter im­me­di­ately pro­nounced three to five per cent in­ad­e­quate and that she might have to re­sort to “ex­treme mea­sures.” Den­tal fees are too high by 20 per cent or more, in the gov­ern­ment’s es­ti­ma­tion.

Let’s first de­bunk the con­nec­tion be­tween physi­cians’ fees and den­tists’ fees. Physi­cians re­ceive their re­mu­ner­a­tion di­rectly from the gov­ern­ment as the re­sult of con­trac­tual ne­go­ti­a­tions be­tween their as­so­ci­a­tion and the gov­ern­ment. Treat­ment fa­cil­i­ties, equip­ment and staff are all pro­vided to physi­cians — other than the ex­pense they in­cur to run pri­vate di­ag­nos­tic clin­ics. Physi­cians and den­tists are dif­fer­ent in terms of the present de­bate.

Den­tists are 100 per cent in­de­pen­dent small busi­nesses, just like lawyers, ac­coun­tants, etc. It is thus a slip­pery slope for the health min­is­ter to de­mand a 20 per cent re­duc­tion in fees. Are lawyers and ac­coun­tants next? I will not re­peat here the el­e­ments of the 60-70 per cent over­head den­tists en­dure (that is the job of the ADA&C), but suf­fice it to say if fees are forced down of­fices will close and new den­tists will set­tle else­where. So, what is to be done?

There are sev­eral less ob­tuse ways the health min­is­ter could grad­u­ally lower den­tal fees. First, the ADA&C could be en­cour­aged to lib­er­al­ize its ad­ver­tis­ing rules. The public know full well that not all den­tists are equally ex­pe­ri­enced and equally qual­i­fied, and that many have pre­ferred ar­eas of prac­tice, so let’s put an end to that cha­rade. Sec­ond, the ADA&C should be en­cour­aged to in­sure its reg­u­la­tory ap­pa­ra­tus obeys the spirit of the law, not just the let­ter of the law. This ad­mit­tedly will not greatly in­crease the num­ber of prac­tis­ing den­tists, but it would en­hance Al­berta’s rep­u­ta­tion across the coun­try as an invit­ing place to prac­tise. And third, the Al­berta gov­ern­ment could fund more seats in the Fac­ulty of Den­tistry at the U of Al­berta. Given the mul­ti­mil­lion-dol­lar new den­tal clinic there it’s ridicu­lous to grad­u­ate 35 den­tists a year when pre­vi­ously 50 per year were trained in much less aus­pi­cious quar­ters.

Dr. David Bal­four

Pincher Creek

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