Dental funding getting plenty of airplay in lead up to Federal Election

Oral health and dental funding have been receiving some attention as we move closer to a Federal election announcement.

The media coverage started with The Australian Greens’ announcement of their new dental policy which promises to invest $5.8 billion to provide Medicare-funded dental care to all young people, aged pensioners and anyone receiving Commonwealth funded benefits.

Declaring that “your health shouldn’t be determined by your postcode or bank balance”, and acknowledging that “untreated dental disease can dramatically impact…a person’s health and quality of life”, Leader Senator Richard Di Natale advised that the scheme would be implemented over four years, eligible recipients will be able to choose their dentist, while having the costs covered by Medicare. (For those who wish to read more, the Greens’ policy available at www.greens.org.au)

The ADA has responded to the Greens’ policy by reaffirming that access to dental service for vulnerable Australians must be an election priority and that it supported policies such as those released by the Australian Greens that target government funds to these members of the community and assist in affording them proper dental care.

Speaking to media, ADA Federal President Dr Carmelo Bonanno responded with “We welcome greater attention to oral health by political parties, and today’s announcement is a step in the right direction”. Targeted funding that supports those Australians that are often least likely to attend a dentist regularly is sorely needed if we are to improve oral health in our community”.

The Greens Policy was quickly followed by the release of a report by the Grattan Institute titled “Filling the dental gap: A universal dental scheme for Australia” which calls on the Federal Government to take full responsibility for funding primary dental care.

The report acknowledges that existing public dental waiting lists are “inadequate, uncoordinated, and inequitable across states and territories” and that “most states have waiting lists of well over a year for public dental care – and if people need to wait a year for care, their conditions are only going to get worse.”

Recognising that it would be impractical to move to a universal scheme overnight, the report recommends an incremental approach with an end goal of every Australian having access to publicly-funded, high-quality dental care. Excluded services would include orthodontic and cosmetic procedures and participating practices would be encouraged to practice ‘minimum intervention dentistry.

Under the scheme, patients would be free to choose their provider and sector as both the public sector and private sector would be eligible to participate.

Where the Grattan proposal differs from the ADA’s Australian Dental Health Plan is the recommendation that participating dental practices would be required to charge fees according to an agreed schedule of services with no allowance for co-payments.

Furthermore, it suggests that there would need to be an expansion of the dental workforce. The ADA would strongly disagree with that recommendation given that we hear all too often of new graduates working in several roles to make up the equivalent of a full-time position.

Governments just need to make better use of the workforce that exists in the private sector.

The ADA looks forward to hearing what the ALP and the current government will put forward as part of their election platform.

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