Kiwi politician pushes for free dental care

Jim Anderton (above) wants free dental care for all New Zealanders.

While the debate continues in Australia as to the type of dental care the government should fun, a New Zealand politician has proposed a free universal dental care scheme. Jim Anderton, Progressive leader and member for Wigram, said the scheme would cost around $1 billion a year at current prices.

“The required funding could come from a levy on income, similar to ACC levies, a reduction in the $17.8 billion tax cuts given to the most affluent New Zealanders by the National-led government over four years (average $4.4 billion per year), a levy on sugary soft drinks (such as we have on tobacco or alcohol) because of their contribution to the forthcoming diabetes epidemic, or a mix of all these possible sources of funds,” Mr Anderton said.

His plan advocates free dental care should be extended over time, and on an incremental basis, to all New Zealanders. First to the most vulnerable groups; pregnant women, those aged 65 years and over followed by those aged between 18 and 28, then those 28 years to 50, followed by those between 50 and 65 years old.

These steps should be supported by education, publicity and the fluoridation of all drinking water (following, and if supported, by a parliamentary select committee enquiry).

There should also be a bonding scheme for dentists and dental hygienists who are prepared to work in rural/provincial areas where dental professionals are in short supply in return for writing off student debt over a 3-5 year period of service.

Good oral health should also be reinstated as a priority goal for the public health system, together with the reinstatement of the requirement that school lunch shops/cafeterias provide only healthy food.

The policy initiate was welcomed by the New Zealand Labour party. Labour Party health spokesman Grant Robertson welcomed the plan, telling a local newspaper it was a useful tool in improving overall dental health care.

“We know many New Zealanders are not receiving the dental care they need, with the most recent nationwide survey showing that 44 per cent are not receiving any at all,” Mr Robertson said.

“This represents a major future risk both in terms of health status, but also in costs to individuals and the taxpayer.”

Mr Anderton added to his press statement: “Because of my retirement from politics this year, I am handing this policy programme to the NZ Labour Party as the vehicle through which I hope these issues, concerns and initiatives can be progressed.”


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