Sometimes, getting money out of Ottawa is harder than pulling teeth.
As a result, some aboriginal people haven’t been going to the dentist.
Now, status Indians who cannot afford to pay upfront for dental care can visit their own clinic in Whitehorse.
The clinic, which will be operating later this month, is Ottawa’s $358,000 answer to a longstanding complaint that eventually caught the ear of the grand chief of the Council of Yukon First Nations.
Ed Schultz threw together a news conference last year to put pressure on Ottawa’s non-insured health benefits program, which provides coverage to status Indians, Inuit and Metis.
By then, only one dental clinic in Whitehorse, Chilkoot, was willing to direct-bill status fees to the program.
The rest refuse to deal with what they call an unwieldy process, which leaves poor patients to either wait in the growing queue at Chilkoot, or neglect their teeth.
“Access to dental services has been an ongoing concern in the Yukon,” federal spokesperson Paul Duchene said from Ottawa.
“The new clinic will not entirely address the need for dental services for Yukon First Nations.”
But Ottawa has shown little interest in addressing the real reason dental patients find themselves in this situation, charged Schultz.
He believes the federal government has deliberately created a billing system so bureaucratic, onerous and slow, it actually saves money by discouraging patients and dentists alike from submitting claims.
Some of the expenses submitted for root canals, fillings and cleanings months ago have still not been paid.
Some, accuse CYFN’s health manager, are approved, then denied midway through treatment.
And patients who do not receive treatment end up in emergency surgery, a reactionary solution that likely costs more in the long run, said Schultz.
Ottawa never did answer the allegations, and, when asked why it did not simply make the administration of the benefits program more user-friendly, Duchene could only say, “That is a good question.”
The small clinic, located in the Elijah Smith Building on Main Street, is projected to cost about $220,000 annually to maintain.
Its dentist, who will soon be joined by a hygienist, is to be paid on a per diem, rather than per-service basis.
“Ultimately, it could result in significant savings, just because of the way it’s operated,” said Duchene.
The government established one other, similar clinic in Thomson, Manitoba, in 1997.