Life Wellbeing ‘Inequitable’ public dental services prompts calls for Medicare-funded dental care scheme

‘Inequitable’ public dental services prompts calls for Medicare-funded dental care scheme

About 2 million Australians who required dental care in the past year either didn’t get it or delayed getting it. Photo: Getty
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Australia’s leading public policy think tank is calling on the federal government to inject $5.6 billion a year into providing a Medicare-style universal insurance scheme for primary dental care.

The Grattan Institute says about two million Australia’s forwent dental care in the past year because of the price of dental services, necessitating a universal scheme to reduce the cost burden on patients.

Similar to how Medicare picks up the bill when Australians need to see a GP, a new report led by Grattan Institute health program director Stephen Duckett, says the cost should no longer come straight out of patients’ pockets.

The authors of the report described existing public dental schemes across Australia as “inadequate, uncoordinated, and inequitable”.

“Most states have waiting lists of well over a year for public dental care – and if people need to wait a year for care, their conditions are only going to get worse,” the authors wrote.

They say about a quarter of Australian adults, including a third of low-income people have to avoid eating certain foods because of the poor condition of their teeth.

Those in the low-income bracket are more likely to suffer from periodontal disease, untreated tooth decay, or have missing teeth, they said.

“Bad oral health has painful and costly consequences,” the authors wrote.

They say oral health conditions can lead to other preventable health problems, including diabetes and heart disease.

“People often end up going to a GP or hospital emergency department to be treated for conditions that could have been arrested with earlier care,” the authors said.

The Institute is urging the federal government to “take responsibility for funding primary dental care – just as it takes responsibility for primary medical care”.

“There’s no compelling medical, economic, legal or logical reason to treat the mouth so differently from the rest of the body,” the authors wrote.

The report suggests the scheme, which it advised should be phased in over 10 years, could be paid for in part by the increased in the Medicare levy.

“First, the Commonwealth should take over funding of services for people eligible for existing public dental schemes, fund them properly, and enable private-sector providers to deliver publicly-funded care.

“Then the scheme should be expanded – first to people on Centrelink payments, then all children. Within a decade, the Commonwealth should take the final step to a universal scheme,” the authors wrote.