Blowing the budget

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2014-Federal-Budget-document-front-page---ABCThis week’s budget has reversed several oral health initiatives of the previous Labor government, and deferred others, to achieve $634.2 million in savings over four years, primarily at the expense of rural and regional patients. According to the treasury’s budget papers, the money saved will be invested in the new Medical Research Future Fund which will be used to fund medical research, primarily through the National Health and Medical Research Council (with funding of around $20 million in 2015-16 rising to $1 billion a year from 2022-23).

Although it appears the Child Dental Benefits scheme appears to continue, the Government will achieve savings of $390.0 million over four years from 2014‑15 by deferring the commencement of the Mid‑Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook 2012‑13 measure Dental health reform — National Partnership Agreement for adult public dental services from 2014‑15 to 2015‑16.

This initiative, announced by previous health minister Tanya Plibersek, was designed as a replacement for the proposed but never-delivered Commonwealth Dental Health Scheme, which was itself a replacement for the CDDS introduced in the dying days of the Howard government in 2007.

But two of the savings measures announced in the budget directly impact programs designed to address the rural and regional services crisis—on it the Government’s reversal of a promised $15.2 million for Charles Sturt Universoty to develop dental and oral health clinics.

The previous government also introduced a grants program designed to encourage development of dental infrastructure in outer metropolitan, rural and regional areas. This Dental Flexible Grants Programme was designed to assist in reducing access barriers for people living in these areas. The grants were for:

 _Innovative models of care to help reach people in more isolated locations;

 _Building new public dental clinics in regional centres; and

 _Refurbishing ageing clinics; and dental facilities in aged care accommodation.

The $229.0 million saved will be invested in the Medical Research Future Fund.

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