Labor to break promise on dental deal

Health minister Nicola Roxon: The deal's off.

Health Minister Nicola Roxon revealed today that the Federal government intends to break its deal with the Greens to fund a public dental program in the next budget. Ms Roxon told a newspaper yesterday any new program to cover the cost of dental treatment for low-income Australians was “not going to be achievable in this budget” and there was “no magic pudding” of money available. The newspaper report is available here.

The intention to ignore dental waiting lists comes despite ongoing pressure from the community and minor political parties. Strangely, the Federal government also continues to insist on killing—rather than adapting—the Medicare dental scheme before it implements any other dental initiatives. Meanwhile, in Queensland, ADA Qld president Brad Wright has mooted using dental students to tackle that state’s waiting lists.

The government’s renewed desire to kill off Medicare dental may be linked to the program’s popularity, with reports surfacing last week that more patients have been seen using the scheme in the past 12 months than in the previous two and a half years.

The government’s refusal to change their position on the scheme—despite repeated rejection in the Senate by the opposition and minor parties—is “stupid and stubborn”, according to Hans Zoellner, chairman of the Association for the Promotion of Oral Health.

Associate Professor Zoellner was quoted in newspaper reports as saying expensive crown and bridge procedures accounted for one-third of the Medicare scheme’s costs—creating the potential for big savings. “I don’t believe that all the crowns and bridge work is unjustifiable … but it would be surprising to me if there weren’t substantial savings within that one-third of expenditure,” Associate Professor Zoellner said. “Pre-approval for crowns and bridges would ensure they are clinically justified. There’s no reason why that couldn’t be done, as the Department of Veterans Affairs has been doing it for a long time.

“Why on earth the government wouldn’t be keen to improve this system, I don’t know.”

Dr Brad Wright’s plan to tackle dental waiting lists in Queensland, meanwhile, has drawn positive attention from some members of parliament, and appear to be simple to implement.

He said the University of Queensland School of Dentistry hoped to increase the number of appointments this year from 60,000 to a maximum of 75,000. “We are keen to help those who have difficulty in accessing care,” Dr Wright told the Courier Mail newspaper.

“There’s no doubt that people are missing out. It’s untenable to suggest the public dental system’s working well. It’s not, despite the best efforts of public health dentists.”

The newspaper said that in some areas patients are facing up to decade-long waits for a checkup. Dr Wright also said Health Care Card holders could receive supervised treatment at the UQ Dental School without having to pay unless they required crowns, dentures or specialised orthodontics.


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  1. Surely , an Association for Promotion of Oral Health must look at the public health requirement of education as the means of preventing need for crowns etc.. Imploring funding for such education is likely to be far more productive when the only alternative is continued ” Ambulance at base of cliff” mentality. Why is it so? Hopefully not to supply dental students at UQ with more patients.


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