Good afternoon, Mr. Chairman and honourable members. Thank you for inviting me to address you today. I am the current president of the Canadian Dental Association, and I live and practise dentistry in Valleyview, Alberta. If anyone doesn't know where that is, it's in the very northwest part of Alberta.
Traditionally, we submit a written brief in addition to this presentation, which we also intend to do this year. But because of the short notice for our appearance, we'll be submitting it after our appearance before you today. It will contain several recommendations that we feel will improve the oral health of Canadians.
For today, I would like to focus on one recommendation, which Mr. Andrew Jones, who is with me today, spoke to this committee about last year. We are calling it the personal wellness investment fund, and it presents a unique way that financial and tax policies can have an impact on dental health and on health in general. I'd like to start by explaining the context, and then I'll give you a few details about how we would see it working.
Imagine it is the year 2017 and you've just retired from a satisfying career with a large communication company. You are at a dinner, but just as you're taking your first bite you hear a nasty crunch and your 20-year-old dental crown drops into your lap. From your dentist's perspective, it's no problem. We already have the technology to replace a tooth with a dental implant. But you would have a problem even today. According to recent polling data collected by the Canadian Dental Association, you and 73% of your peers do not have a plan for dental care beyond retirement. Even if you happen to be in the 27% of people who have given it some thought, two-thirds of those people are counting on their former employer to continue to offer post-retirement dental coverage. Unfortunately, that benefit has begun to peter out. In 2006 alone, Bell, Sun Life, Sears, Nortel, and Manulife Financial all announced significant cuts to the dental plans they offer employees post-retirement.
Unfortunately, there also is little chance that a public plan will cover you either. According to recent statistics from the Canadian Institute of Health Information, although the proportion of public spending on health care has remained relatively stable, the dental portion has been shrinking steadily to the point that less than 5% of the $9 billion spent on dental care annually is now publicly funded.
In many provinces, this public funding is devoted entirely to children's dental programs, and in many cases there have been cutbacks to these programs as well. Unfortunately for seniors, with the exception of Alberta, which is showing some leadership in this area, only limited public funding goes to maintaining oral health beyond retirement. We also know that Canada is entering a period of accelerated population aging that will see the share of seniors aged 65 and over increase from 13% in 2005 to 23% in 2031.
We have a recommendation that's not a cure-all but would be a step in the right direction. The idea is for the government to create a process that would allow for tax incentives for people to put away funds earmarked for health spending. This would include any legitimate health expenses not covered under provincial health plans--dentistry, of course, but also perhaps prescription drugs, home care, and the like. We have referred to this fund as the personal wellness investment fund.
Our backgrounder lays out a few possibilities on how this fund might work, and details will be included in our brief. Essentially, we see it as an RRSP- or an RESP-like entity. Individuals with a registered fund could make contributions to it during their working years, either out of pre-tax or post-tax dollars, with a government top-up. These funds would remain dedicated for health care spending, presumably post-retirement, in the absence of an applicable insurance plan. Some might say that the fabric is already stretched thin. How are people going to put away for an RRSP, RESP, and a PWIF all at the same time?
As we see it, RESP contributions for most people will occur in the early part of their lives. By contrast, the PWIF would probably appeal more to those whose children have left home and are finished their schooling. So it could work out nicely from both a household spending and government planning perspective. At the time that RESP contributions draw to a close, a similar amount of money could simply be switched to a PWIF contribution.
As I mentioned earlier, CDA has many other thoughts and recommendations aimed at improving the oral health of Canadians. Because time is limited, we decided to speak to you today about just this one aspect. But of course we're happy to discuss any other areas of oral health funding, either today or at a later date.