Dental care boost for kids in poverty

Additional 70,000 to get free service in Ontario

An additional 70,000 low-income Ontario children will be eligible for free dental care under a new streamlined program to be rolled out over the next 18 months, Health Minister Deb Matthews said Monday. 

Families with one child under 18 with net annual incomes of up to $21,513 will be eligible for the province’s Healthy Smiles program starting next April. The income cap rises by $1,500 for each additional child.

By August 2015, the province’s six dental programs serving low-income and disabled children will be merged into a single service to improve administration and access, Matthews told reporters.

“Good oral health is an important component of good overall health. That’s why we have taken important steps to increase access to free dental services for more kids in low-income families and to make it easier for families to access oral health services.” Matthews said in a statement.

An estimated 300,000 children and youth participated in Ontario’s low-income dental programs from April 2012 to April 2013, the ministry said.

Dental health advocates praised the government for moving to fix children’s public dental programs.

“By combining the current patchwork of programs into a single program and by raising the income eligibility criteria, more children will get the dental care they need,” said Jacquie Maund of the Association of Ontario Health Centres.

The association has called for all children receiving the Ontario Child Benefit to have access to free dental care. Monday’s announcement means about half of them will be covered, Maund said.

The association also wants free dental health care expanded to low-income adults. Currently, only those on social assistance are eligible.

The new dental health measures were announced as part of the government’s annual progress report on poverty reduction. Under the Liberals’ 2008, five-year plan, the government pledged to cut child poverty by 25 per cent and lift 90,000 kids out of poverty.

Ontario’s child poverty rate was 13.6 per cent in 2011, down from 15.2 per cent in 2008, according to the report. Rates are 18 months behind due to a lag in Statistics Canada data.

A single parent with one child living on an annual income below 27,725 in Ontario was considered poor in 2011.

More than 47,000 Ontario children and their families were lifted out of poverty and 61,000 were prevented from falling into poverty between 2008 and 2011, according to the provincial report card.

More than one million children in 530,000 families are receiving the Ontario Child Benefit of up to $1,210 annually per child, it says. The benefit rises to $1,310 a year next July.

Laurie Monsebraaten
Social Justice Reporter

Source: Toronto Star

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