Two steps back, one step forward for dental care

This report from The National Oral Health Alliance (NOHA) estimates that 338,000 people could lose access to timely and affordable dental care in the latest wave of Government budget cuts.

NOHA is dismayed that after 30 years of communities fighting for better dental care for all Australians, and seeing some progress in the last decade, the Coalition Government has announced a massive step backwards on funding for public dental services.

The Government’s contribution to lower income Australians’ dental care in 2016–17 is at an all-time low. Figures are down from an originally promised $391 million (2013–14 Budget) to $107 million announced yesterday. This will result in as many as 338,000 people losing access to timely and affordable care.

“NOHA is shocked that the Government’s policy answers seem again to be to cut from those with the worst health and least ability to pay for access to care. It is a bitter pill for the estimated 338,000 low income Australians who will effectively miss out, thus adding to already unacceptably long public dental queues,” said Tony McBride, spokesperson for the Alliance.

<h3>Not all bad</h3>
NOHA is pleased that the national Child Dental Benefits Schedule is being retained and will subsidise care for many children. This is an important scheme. However on the other hand the 30% cut from the $1,000 cap per child over two years to $700 will leave an estimated 20% of all eligible children—those by definition with the highest needs—having to pay extra. From past experience, it is clear that such a cost is bound to leave many lower income families turning down necessary treatment for their children, especially preventive care, for affordability reasons.

“It is a bitter pill for the estimated 338,000 low income Australians who will effectively miss out, thus adding to already unacceptably long public dental queues.”

By contrast, the Government continues to subsidise (on average) better off Australians’ private health insurance for their dental care to the tune of an estimated $270 million per year.

Sadly, it is hard to see any coherent health policy behind this decision, just pressure to cut budgets.

“Untreated dental problems cost our community millions in health care costs and lost productivity,” Mr McBride said. “There are long waiting lists for public care and every year around 63,000 Australians need to be hospitalised for preventable and treatable oral conditions. Many others are unable to work or fully participate in community life due to poor dental health.”

According to AIHW, individuals are already contributing 60% of the total spend on dental care in Australia through out-of-pocket costs. That is over four times the average for all other health care. For a significant number, these out-of-pocket costs are simply unaffordable.”

Australia is desperately in need of a rational and fair oral health policy as an essential element of general health care. “We have a highly trained workforce but now need a structure and funding to make sure everyone has equal access to their expertise”.

NOHA is an alliance of peak bodies representing all the dental professionals, consumers including older people, hospitals and healthcare providers, rural health services and others.

For more details please contact the spokesperson for NOHA, Tony McBride on 0407 531 468