ADA analyses the Budget

ADA President Dr Karin Alexander
ADA President Dr Karin Alexander

The Australian Dental Association has offered commentary on last month’s Federal Budget, noting that while it is far from finalised, there will be winners and losers for dental care, and that “the losses outweigh the gains”.

In the latest Dental News Update, the Association says; “There had been speculation that the Child Dental Benefits Schedule (CDBS) may have closed or been significantly modified. While the Schedule was retained, changes to Family Tax Benefit A eligibility will result in less families meeting the threshold for eligibility resulting in some children missing out on treatment under this scheme. The ADA will continue to seek to have the CDBS extended to provide greater focus on prevention for children and young adults. Investment in prevention to this age group is essential for long term good oral health.

“Funding provided for the Voluntary Dental Graduate Year Program (for dentists and oral health therapists) will continue as will the Dental Relocation and Infrastructure Support Scheme (DRISS). The outcomes of both of these programmes are yet to be fully realised. However, grants under DRISS have already resulted in 33 dentists setting up practice in regional and remote areas of Australia.

“National Partnership Agreement funding supplementing State and Territory funding to adult care will continue. Some will recall similar funding was removed by the Howard government when it was felt assistance to address waiting list blow-outs had been effective. While funding will continue, funding beyond 2015 is subject to further negotiation with the States and Territories. Commencement of the Mid Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook 2012-13 measure “Dental health reform — National Partnership Agreement for adult public dental services” will be deferred from 2014-15 to 2015-16. Funds ear-marked to address the needs of adults under the Chronic Disease Dental Scheme (discontinued in December 2012) will not be accessible on 1 July 2014, as anticipated.

“This deferral will potentially mean there will be less funding available to address waiting lists at the State and Territory level. Access to a private dentist through provision of a voucher may be reduced. There is a real risk that waiting lists could blow out again. States and Territories must ensure they continue to look to their own resources to maintain this model if they are to prevent the trend reversing.

“Indexation of Department of Veterans’ Affairs (DVA) dental and allied health provider payments will be deferred to 1 July 2016. It is said, “This measure will align indexation of payments to dental and allied health providers with the indexation arrangements for DVA medical services.”

“This is disappointing as the ADA regularly canvassed with the Minister’s office and Department as to the significant discrepancy between DVA fees and dentists’ customary fees. This will potentially further impact on the delivery of dental services to eligible veterans and their families.

“The Dental Flexible Grants Program, initiated by the previous government to provide dental infrastructure (capital and workforce) to non-metropolitan areas remoteness (outer metropolitan, rural and regional areas) of Australia, due to come into effect in July 2014 was removed. Funding ear-marked for the further development of the dental school at Charles Sturt University was withdrawn.

Rationalisation of government agencies could result in less awareness of issues impacting on dental care in Australia. The role of the Private Health Insurance Ombudsman and that of the Private Health Insurance Advisory Council will be consumed by the Department of Health. These changes are likely to be implemented by mid 2015 and could result in less focus on the behaviour of private health insurance providers. Rebates for private health insurers have not kept pace with premium increases. The ADA will continue to be active in this space and will be requesting regular discussion with the Department of Health to ensure that a strong focus is maintained.

Similarly, Health Workforce Australia (HWA) is to be absorbed into the Department of Health. Immediate action needs to be taken by the Department to ensure HWA’s recent focus and report on the dental workforce is not lost. The ADA has worked very closely with HWA in the development of this report and it is critical correct information about dental workforce supply is available especially given the National Oral Health Plan 2014-2023 is in the final stages of development.

There was a well-publicised commitment by the Coalition Government to reverse the deficit and everyone expected some pain in the 2014-15 Federal Budget measures. All in all, funding for dental care has been less impacted than other areas of health.”

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