Child dental bill passes into law

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Health Minister Tanya Plibersek
Health Minister Tanya Plibersek

On Monday this week both houses of the Australian Parliament passed the Dental Benefits Amendment Bill 2012, which allocates $2.7 billion for up to 3.4 million children to access dental services through Medicare. Although the bill has been cautiously welcomed by the profession, there is concern that the legislation is vague about which services will be covered, and who will provide them.

“It is imperative that this new scheme be well designed,” says the new ADA President, Dr Karin Alexander. “This mistakes associated with the introduction of the Chronic Disease Dental Scheme must not be repeated, in particular, the administrative and reporting requirements that were not reflective of the model of service delivery within dentistry.”

Briefing notes from the Parliamentary library point out that although the Health Minister, Tanya Plibersek, claims in her second reading speech that this Bill establishes the Child Dental Benefits Schedule (CDBS) for children aged two to 17, the Bill does not in fact do this. Instead it simply allows for the establishment of the Dental Benefits Rules, which may do this. The Bill does not specify what the Rules must contain or when these will be promulgated.

The details of services to be covered and who will provide these will rely on the Department consulting with the dental profession. Whether consultations will focus only on dentists or include dental prosthetists and dental hygienists remains unclear, although this workforce is identified as one that could deliver CDBS services.

Other problems include: ensuring that the shortcomings identified in the review of the Teen Dental Plan are adequately addressed so they do not re-surface in the expanded scheme; building the capacity of the dental workforce in both the public and private sectors to meet increased demand and ensuring it is better distributed, and ensuring any increased demand for services does not drive fee inflation or erode bulk billing. An additional challenge will be ensuring an equitable and coordinated transition to the new arrangements.

“The ADA urges the Australian Government to work closely with the dental profession to develop the detail of this dental scheme for children so that appropriate dental care is provided as efficiently as possible,” says Dr Alexander.

“Treatment regimes must be flexible enough to allow for the clinician to provide treatment that is patient-focused and provides for long-term oral health solutions. The dental profession is best placed to advise on the type of services that should be offered.

“The ADA is ready to begin working with the Australian Government to ensure that this new dental scheme delivers for Australia’s children.”

 

 

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