Dental denial denounced

The Yukon government denial that it's changing how the Yukon Children's Dental Program works comes as a surprise to Darrin Sinclair, manager of Riverstone Dental Clinic.

The Yukon government denial that it’s changing how the Yukon Children’s Dental Program works comes as a surprise to Darrin Sinclair, manager of Riverstone Dental Clinic.

“That’s kind of a doublespeak way of getting around the issue,” he said.

The Department of Health and Social Services insists it isn’t changing the program, which provides free dental care to schoolchildren.

Most work is performed by dentists at school. But, occasionally, students with extensive dental problems or behavioral issues are referred to a private clinic like Riverstone.

Last month, the NDP warned the territory planned to foist the cost of this work on to private insurance companies, when children are covered.

Not so, replied Health Department officials. Instead, they were merely trying to avoid double-billing, in which both the territory and a private insurer paid the same bill.

But from where Sinclair sits, the NDP were right. He received a phone call from a Health official, asking that he begin screening referrals for clients who are covered by private insurance.

He didn’t like the idea.

“Now you’re putting the burden on families that can’t afford it and small businesses that have to spend extra time. And time means money.”

Under the new scheme – which has been put on hold for now – parents may find themselves maxing out their insurance coverage because of their children’s dental work, “and there’s less available for the rest of the family,” Sinclair worries.

“If you run that through the rest of your family, there’s nothing left for anyone else.

“In my mind, if this is a universal program, it should be universal. It shouldn’t be who’s got what.”

The dental cases referred to private clinics may run up to several thousand dollars.

This isn’t for braces or esthetic veneers – which would not be eligible under the program. It’s basic dental work. But, in some cases, a horrific amount of it is needed.

“For some of these referrals, the scope is so massive that the whole mouth is decayed,” said Sinclair. “It’s not possible to treat these children in the chair. You can’t have a three- or four-year-old lying there for four hours. So we take them into the operating room.

“These are kids with black stubs for teeth. It’s traumatic for a dentist to see this kind of stuff.”

And screening clients would be a big hassle for a small outfit like Riverstone.

“It makes a burden on a small business. We have one receptionist at the front. Now you’re asking us to be policing whether people have insurance?” asked Sinclair.

“When I call a plumber to do something, and he gives me the bill, I don’t give that bill to someone else.”

When Sinclair told the official screening wasn’t part of his standing contract, the territory backed off.

The Health Department dependably overruns its budget every year, so it’s not surprising to see it try to further control costs.

But Sinclair worries the program is on the chopping block for the wrong reasons.

“It’s a victim of its own success. More kids are being seen, which is what they want, but the bills are going too high.”

For 2009-10, the program cost $115,500.

Contact John Thompson at johnt@yukon-news.com.

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