Alberta’s first dental fee guide in two decades fails to take the necessary steps to bring down chronically high prices for dental work, said a group representing Canada’s health insurance companies. “More work needs to be done to bring fees down to reasonable levels, given that dental fees in Alberta are 26 to 32 per cent higher than elsewhere in the country,” Stephen Frank, president and CEO of the Canadian Life and Health Insurance Association, said in written statement Friday. The new fee guide — the province’s first since 1997 — was unveiled Thursday by the Alberta Dental Association and College, which insisted the newly recommended fees would push dentists to lower their rates. But critics such as Health Minister Sarah Hoffman have expressed skepticism , noting the dental association’s recommended prices represent just a three-per-cent reduction from average rates currently being charged. Frank agreed, in part echoing Hoffman’s comments that more effort is needed to improve affordability. Some dentists have said they don’t have room to lower fees, and that insurance companies are simply trying to improve their own bottom line. They argue companies will exploit the fee guides to justify smaller reimbursements for dental work, which would force patients to cover a greater portion of the costs. Asked about this possibility, an executive for the insurance association said the pressure to lower costs is coming from employers who use insurers to manage health benefits. “Because the dental fees are so high, they are looking at cost-management strategies that could result in a shifting of a larger portion of costs to their plan members,” Wendy Hope, vice-president of external relations, said in an email. “If (fees) are significantly reduced, benefit plans would be more affordable and the cost to employees would be less.”
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