Bipartisan Support for Dental Care Welcome; but Devil is in the Detail

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Today's announcement by Health Minister Sussan Ley of a Public Dental Scheme for children and adults is a welcome shift to bipartisan Commonwealth support for dental care as an important part of the Australian health system, says Alison Verhoeven, Australian Healthcare and Hospitals Association (AHHA) Chief Executive. However the funding is neither as generous as suggested in the announcement, nor will it underpin equitable access to care.

"All Australians should have access to affordable dental care - good oral health is important for our health and wellbeing, but affordability challenges mean many people miss out.

"Whether the scheme announced today assists in addressing these challenges will be highly dependent on the detail: many of the people who will be eligible for the new program are already eligible for public dental services but face long waits for care. This funding stream from the Commonwealth may contribute to easing waiting times, but it will be dependent on the calculation methodology for the efficient price the Commonwealth has indicated it will pay, and the capacity of the states and territories to meet co-funding requirements. This creates a real risk of variation across Australia in the availability of care. 

“Additionally, adults with high immediate needs for dental treatment will be competing for public funded care with children requiring preventive care, as a result of the move away from the previous scheme which promoted better dental care in childhood. Administrative processes will need to align with service requirements and support access to care, particularly for vulnerable population groups and to ensure that children remain in scope for care.

"As we approach the May 3 budget, it is also important to ensure clarity around the quantum of funding for specific budget initiatives. This funding measure is a step forward in recognising that dental care must be part of the public-funded health system - but conflating the funding for this initiative with the private health insurance subsidy and funding for in-hospital services is not helpful," says Ms Verhoeven.

Media enquiries:
Alison Verhoeven
Chief Executive, The Australian Healthcare and Hospitals Association
0403 282 501