Red Deer dentist says new provincial fee guide counter-productive

By Josh Hall (Twitter: @Vancan19) and The Canadian Press
December 8, 2016 - 6:00pm Updated: December 8, 2016 - 9:14pm

A government review has found that Albertans are paying more than their fellow Canadians to go to the dentist, but the province is stopping short of regulating fees.

Instead, the NDP says it will work with dentists to develop a fee guide which will allow patients to shop around for services.

The review found that the average costs of nearly 50 procedures are 44 per cent higher in Alberta than in BC, 38 per cent more than in Saskatchewan and 25 per cent more than in Ontario.

However, Dr. Michael Zuk, a dentist in Red Deer, says the measure is counter-productive because it eliminates a free market.

"The problem with the fee guide that's been made up by the NDP and the Alberta Dental Association is that dentists do not have to follow that fee guide," he says. "The dental insurance company will reduce their reimbursement to that fee guide and now patients will be paying a bigger difference between what the dentist charges and what the fee guide says."

Zuk adds people with one dental plan will be hit the hardest, while people without one may benefit more because of the increase in competition. He also says people with two plans will be fine.

"The free market always fixes itself. I look at dentist prices and I reduce mine, say if I want to compete with an orthodontist. He's got extra training so maybe I can offer evening appointments and offer it for a reduced fee," says Zuk. "But guess what, if you do that, the orthodontist can use the advertising rules against you, then you get in deep trouble and basically they shut you down. It's not a free market right now."
 
Zuk adds they're focusing on the wrong thing. What he believes matters is ensuring patients have the best treatment plan.
 
"To focus on just the fee for a particular item I think is a mistake."

The Provincial review also says hygienists are paid up to $18 an hour more than in the rest of the country and assistants are paid up to $10 an hour more.

Health Minister Sarah Hoffman says the fee guide will allow people to make more informed decisions about their dental care.

(with files from The Canadian Press)

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