Denticare begins?

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health minister Tanya Plibersek
Health Minister Tanya Plibersek

The Federal Government has joined with The Greens to announce a $4 billion dental health reform package which builds on the half-billion dollars for dental announced in the last budget. At the centre of the six-year package, announced on Wednesday in a joint press conference with The Greens, is a program that will offer government-subsidised dental care to more than three million children, in the same way they’re now entitled to Medicare-funded GP visits. Greens senator Richard Di Natale said, “Today we have laid the foundations for Denticare, with 3.4 million Australian children now eligible for Medicare funded dental treatment.”

“While Medicare and free hospital care have been a basic right for Australians for decades, millions of people in this country still go without adequate dental care,” Ms Plibersek said.

“Labor believes we have a responsibility to ensure Australians who are least able to afford to go to the dentist, and particularly children, should be given access to government-subsidised oral health care.”

The six-year package announced today includes:

• $2.7 billion for around 3.4 million Australian children who will be eligible for subsidised dental care;

• $1.3 billion for around 1.4 million additional services for adults on low incomes, including pensioners and concession card holders, and those with special needs; who will have better access to dental care in the public system; and

• $225 million for dental capital and workforce will be provided to support expanded services for people living in outer metropolitan, regional, rural and remote areas.

“This package will deliver a better system of dental health care for Australians that is accessible, affordable and focuses on prevention.”

Children from the aged two to 17 in Family Tax Benefit Part A-eligible families will be entitled to subsidised basic dental treatment, capped at $1,000 per child over a two-year period. This $2.7 billion initiative aims to address dental decay in children, which has been increasing since the 1990s.

“Investment in our children’s teeth is an investment in the future,” said Ms Plibersek.

“We know that poor childhood oral health leads to poor adult oral health, and has wide-ranging impacts on general health and wellbeing, including strain on our health and hospital system.’’

As part of the package, the Gillard Government is providing $1.3 billion to states and territories under a National Partnership Agreement to expand public dental services for low income adults. This funding will depend on the states and territories at least maintaining their current level of dental care services.

And $225 million in funding for dental infrastructure in outer metropolitan, rural and regional areas will assist more Australians, regardless of their location, in gaining access to high quality dental care

The Dental Health Reform package will replace the Medicare Teen Dental Plan and the Chronic Disease Dental Scheme (CDDS). “The re-direction of federal funding to Australia’s children and adults on low incomes or in rural areas will prove to be a sound investment. We know that if dental care can be provided to children then their long-term dental health will be significantly improved. Early intervention and preventive treatments are a proven and well-established method to prevent poor dental health in later life,” Dr Shane Fryer, president of the ADA aid in response to the announcement.

“Currently about 65 per cent of Australians receive regular dental care. The ADA believes the new program will provide assistance to many Australian families previously unable to access regular care, as a sure way of helping them to avoid a path where their dental health will deteriorate.

“The focus of this federal funding upon this sector of the community will not only result in improved dental health for our young people but may also result in a long-term saving for government and the community by minimising long-term deterioration in dental health. It is a sound and sensible investment,” added Dr Fryer.

The ADA also supports the re-direction of government funding from the CDDS; although an apparent reduction in funding for the 2013 calendar year is noted. The CDDS delivered some valuable care but was too widely available and utilised by Australians who were already able to access treatment.

“The ADA accepts that the CDDS funding model was flawed but the chronically ill have special needs and those who have not been able to access care through financial or geographic disadvantage must continue to receive assistance. Increasing the capacity of the public dental system will help meet this need.”

 

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3 COMMENTS

  1. The Labor/Greens Dental Health Reform Package is based on Seven Pillars of Scientific Fraud
    A string of lies has been repeated by a pack of people who either knew better or should have known better as it was their reposnibility to be accurately informed
    NEVER in the history of public health planning has there been a more scanalous scientific fraud used to justify a scheme that is doomed to fail in its goals before it even starts
    Dr Jeremy Rourke

  2. A point well made Dr Rourke – yet the ADA stand by and lend their support to the program without flagging any issue with it at all. I think serious questions need to start being asked as to the political usefulness of our professions’ representative body.

  3. Firstly, let’s start a discussion amongst ourselves, the members of the dental profession. It seems to me that there is a serious disconnect between what the dentists want, need or find to be a reasonable and acceptable solution for the problems facing our nation’s oral health AND what is often being publicised as the consensus amongst our profession! Now, I am not sure that this is the case here, but back when this should have been done, the ADA did not condemn the EPC Scheme as if they could not foresee the shambles that would ensue… It also looks as though the different state branches work differently and some with much more enthusiasm and drive (and innovation, as is the case with Victoria) than others (nudge nudge wink wink, NSW).

    I believe that the ADA is suffering from dis-engagement and disconnect with its members and it’s not all their fault, of course. The membership and the dental community as a whole are a very diverse group with different (and sometimes even completely opposite) opinions and it is difficult to find that ONE voice for the whole profession. Do we participate enough, though? Dentists need to do more to actually collaborate and talk to each other about issues facing the future of dentistry, public and private, as well as dental practice as a small business. Once we find a way to communicate with each other without fear of ‘giving too much away to the competition’ we will be able to present a more balanced and more unified voice to the “powers that be” as well as the public at large.

    Each one of us can do their share of promoting what is ethically sound dental care, practical prevention education and a holistic approach to dental health as a part of overall health and wellbeing.

    Going back to the government’s announcement, the funding is welcome, but I take issues with the following:

    1. It doesn’t state where, how and who will be in charge of providing these subsidised services. As we know, the EPC Scheme did not allow hygienists to provide services to these clients (ridiculous bureaucratic measure which makes no sense as a HEALTH policy)! Is it likely that the Child Benefit Scheme (CBS) will also stop short of allowing dental therapists to provide these services?

    What, if anything, will be done to improve existing children’s dentistry infrastructure (school dental service)? Will this be allowed to decay into oblivion and force all of our children into the private sector? What good will that do except create further shortages and restrictions in access to care?

    2. Why do they need to restrict the type of treatment provided under the scheme to “basic” treatment only? When did the government of Australia become a private health insurance corporation? This is a tactic employed by private health funds to minimise rebates paid, but in the case of CBS we are talking about children’s health, which needs to be decided by their families and their dentists (together), not by the government! There will be children out there who will be losing teeth left, right and centre, just because the “high end” (they stop short of calling these services: “unnecessary” or “luxurious”) services will not be paid for. This is shameful, as most people claiming for these services will not be able to afford root canal treatment for their children and even if there are ample funds left in their allowance, that tooth will have to go! Talk about health inequalities!

    What does everyone else think of these? Let’s actually spell out what we are unhappy about and let’s improve communication lines between us, dentists. It is the 21st century, the age of internet, social media, instant access to information. We cannot ‘hold on’ to what we know and what we think any longer. Time to speak out and speak up!

    Tijana Fisher

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