The Ontario government is promising a new drug and dental program aimed at closing the gap for people in the province who don’t have benefits, as Premier Kathleen Wynne aims to woo voters in the province.
The new spending announcement was outlined in Wednesday’s provincial budget, which contained several promises ahead of a provincial election just weeks away and with Wynne facing the lowest approval ratings of any sitting premier in the country.
Under the proposed program, Ontarians would be reimbursed up to 80 per cent for prescription drugs and dental visits. The program will only apply to those who aren’t already covered by workplace or other government benefits and is expected to cost $800 million over two years.
“Without an extended health plan, people may not be able to afford to fill their prescriptions or seek adequate dental care,” the budget says.
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The program will be capped at a maximum of $400 per person for both drug and dental, $600 per couple, plus $50 for each child in the family. The announcement did not include details as to which drugs would covered.
Finance Minister Charles Sousa said the proposed drug and dental plan is part of Liberal government’s effort to provide “more support” for Ontarians.
“We are providing pharmacare for 1 in 2 Ontarians. We are going to be providing drug and benefit plans for those in between,” Sousa said. “These are important initiatives that makes everyone better off and puts more money in their pockets.”
The Ontario Dental association said the plan does not take any meaningful action for kids from low-income families. Currently there are roughly 500,000 eligible children and youth in the province who don’t have proper dental coverage, according to the ODA.
“For over a decade, Ontario’s dentists have been going to Queen’s Park to personally explain to MPPs how dental pain is the second-most common reason children miss school,” said Dr. LouAnn Visconti, ODA President, in a statement. “The ODA strongly believes no child should go to bed in pain but we need the provincial government to be a reliable partner in making sure that doesn’t happen to kids from low-income families. Sadly, we’re still waiting and so are the children.”
The Liberal proposal appears to be taking a page from the playbook of Andrea Horwath and the NDP who has promised universal dental coverage for every person in the province.
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Horwath said the budget is a last minute attempt by Premier Wynne to sway voters ahead of an election.
“Ontarians still don’t have universal pharmacare and they still don’t have access to the dental care that they need,” Horwath told reporters. “We can have universal pharmacare, drug coverage for everyone in our province. We can give all Ontarians the dental care they need. Not just a $50 rebate per child, but an actual dental care program.”
While the NDP have yet to release a fully-costed election platform, Horwath said proposed programs doesn’t go far enough in providing total coverage for Ontarians.
“I don’t understand whatsoever. $50 for children? You can’t even get half a cavity filled,” she said. “People have to shell out the money in advance and then get a reimbursement. You tell me any struggling low income family … how are they going to shell out that money in advance?”
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Newly elected PC leader Doug Ford said Premier Wynne will say “anything to cling to power” without offering any specific details on whether he would keep or expand on a dental program.
“Kathleen Wynne is writing lots of cheques with your money. She is making big promises with your hard earned tax dollars,” Ford told reporters. “I’ve looked at the finances and her cheques are going to bounce.”
The Ontario PCs have also not released a platform under Ford who wouldn’t comment on whether he would keep or scrap some of the proposals in the Liberal budget.
“I want to get in there and look at books and see how accurate this budget is,” he said. “There are hundreds and hundreds of programs throughout this program and every single program will be reviewed.”