Budget less bad than expected

Treasurer Wayne Swan: gives with one hand, takes away with the other.

In an impressive sleight-of-hand trick, the Federal government has managed to whisk money away from dental treatment and replace it with a promise that something else may happen in the future. In this week’s Federal Budget, Treasurer Wayne Swan announced the closure of the Medicare chronic disease dental scheme, and the funding of new dental internship placements.

The latter was one recommendation of the National Health and Hospitals Reform Commission report two years ago that everyone agreed with. The government is using the internships as a way of targeting dental care in rural and remote communities. The Federal Budget has allocated $53.1 million over the next three years to establish new dental internship placements.

Dr Shane Fryer, president of the ADA, said that in providing these 50 placements per year, the current mal-distribution of dentists will be partly remedied and at the same time it will provide these graduates with a meaningful educative experience. “The ADA is pleased that some of our long-term concerns have been heeded and anticipates further dialogue with government to maximise this initiative,” he said.

In a further move to start addressing other concerns in oral care in Australia, the Federal Government also announced the establishment of an Advisory Council to consult the Government on dental policy for the next twelve months.

But of greater concern was the announcement that Medicare dental would be axed. Although the government has been trying to close the scheme since 2007, it has been consistently blocked from doing so in the Senate.

The promise has always been that the closure of Medicare Dental would free up funds for a renewed Commonwealth Dental Health Program, although there is no mention of such a program in the current budget.

Although the ADA has never supported Medicare dental, Dr Fryer says, “The closure of the Chronic Disease Dental Scheme will leave many chronically ill patients without subsidised access to much-needed quality dental care. To leave patients who have been reliant upon the support for the past four years without any replacement will have devastating consequences for their whole treatment.”

Still, the government’s moves have been cautiously welcomed by the ADA, and others. Associate Professor Julie Satur from the Australian Dental and Oral Health Therapists Association (ADOHTA) told the ABC, “Naturally we are quite disappointed that there hasn’t been immediate funding attention and that in fact there is probably some loss of funding, but we are very keen to work with them over the next 12 months to consider new ways to deliver dental services and use our existing resources in better ways.”

Professor Satur says that while a dental scheme would be costly, it is something her association supports.

“It is quite contested and there are certainly questions about how costly it will be, but ADOHTA certainly supports that because that would then link dental into mainstream health service delivery and funding considerations,” she said.


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  1. It seems to be quite obvious that the Chronic Disease Dental Scheme is the first ever effort to” link dental into mainstream health service delivery and funding.” Improved targetting to those in greatest need seems an obvious improvement. “Working with them over the next twelve months” seems to be nothing more than talkfest while people suffer.


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