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Concerns raised about 4.4 per cent increase in Alberta dental fee guide; patients encouraged to shop around for services

Concerns raised about 4.4 per increase Alberta dental fee guide, patients encouraged to shop around for services
WATCH: Albertans are being told to prepare to pay more for a dentist appointment next year. As Carolyn Kury de Castillo reports, concerns are being raised about a dental fee guide increase.

The Alberta Dental Association and College has released its fee guide for 2020 which includes a 4.4 per cent increase from 2019 to help keep up with rising costs.

The ADA&C registers and regulates dental services but dentists can set their own rates.

Consumers are advised to use the fee guide to compare prices.

READ MORE: Canadians support publicly funded dental care for those without insurance, Ipsos poll finds

Alberta Blue Cross is now raising concerns about the new dental fee guide. Alberta Blue Cross is the largest payer of dental services in Alberta.

“While we appreciate our close working relationship with Alberta dental providers, we are surprised and disappointed that the dental association would look for such a substantial increase given the current economic climate in Alberta and the economic challenges many Albertans are facing,” Brian Geislinger, vice-president of corporate relations at Alberta Blue Cross said.

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READ MORE: Alberta to address rising cost of dental fees

Geislinger said it’s difficult to understand how such an increase would be justified with the Alberta Consumer Price Index running below two per cent.

He said most Alberta Blue Cross dental plans contractually follow the fee guide and he predicts customers will be directly impacted by the increase, pointing to when Alberta Blue Cross passed on reductions to customers when  the fee guide was reduced in 2018.

Credit: Alberta Blue Cross
Credit: Alberta Blue Cross Credit: Alberta Blue Cross

Geislinger said Alberta has the highest prices for dental services compared with other provinces and the 2020 increases “make regular dental care even more challenging.”

He points out that a standard recall appointment in Alberta will now be $346 compared to $242 in Ontario.

“This increase could not have come at a worse time for Alberta’s public sector employers, which are in the midst of working to reduce operating costs, and Alberta’s private sector, which continues to struggle with economic uncertainty,” Geislinger said.

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Help is available for low-income Calgarians at CUPS. Volunteer dental teams hold several clinics each week at the downtown location. Staff there say they are seeing more patients whose teeth are so bad, they’re beyond restoration.

“People can’t afford it. They neglect their teeth for many years and by the time they come to us, those teeth are beyond restoration and then we have to look at dentures,” Anna Waller, CUPS manager of dental services said.

READ MORE: New Alberta dental fee guide recommends 8.5% drop for dozens of procedures

Waller said the while the 4.4 per cent increase may look small, everything adds up.

“There are lots of people who actually are working and who have a level of coverage through their employer, but they still can’t afford and therefore can’t access. So these increases make it more and more difficult for people to access dental care that they need. They are already struggling to do that.”

Geislinger says Alberta Blue Cross is encouraging people to shop around, including getting work done outside Alberta at a reduced cost or by an independent dental hygienist.