Will Medicare be extended to cover dental?

Posted: 19 March 2019 7:04 am
News

A universal dental scheme could be on the horizon for Australia.

Approximately two million Australians delayed or didn't receive dental treatment in the last year because of the cost, according to the findings from the Filling the gap: A universal dental care scheme for Australia report. The solution to this problem? A Medicare-like scheme for primary dental says the Grattan Institute.

According to the report, the fix would be to introduce a dental scheme that would be phased in over the next 10 years. The proposed scheme would cost around $5.6 billion a year and the Grattan Institute suggested that it could be paid for in part by increasing the Medicare levy.

"When Australians need to see a GP, Medicare picks up all or most of the bill. But when they need to see a dentist, Australians are on their own," Grattan Institute's health program director Stephen Duckett said in a statement.

The report comes in the wake of a Medicare-funded policy initiative suggested by the Greens called "Denticare". The program is said to cost a similar amount to what was projected by the Grattan Institute plan, $5.8 billion vs $5.6 billion, and will provide "Medicare-funded dental care to all young people, aged pensioners, full benefit recipients and concession card holders".

Cost a concern

Reactions to the concept of a Medicare-style dental scheme have been mixed. The Consumer Health Forum of Australia (CHF) said that while the scheme proposed in the Grattan report would be expensive, it would be a fraction of the cost of Medicare and ultimately provide better health outcomes for millions of Australians.

"Poor oral health can lead to pain, discomfort, hospitalisation and disease all combining to put additional cost burdens on the system in the form of subsidized medicines, GP visits and avoidable hospitalisations," CEO of the CHF Leanne Wells said in a release.

On the other side of the coin, Private Healthcare Australia (PHA) said that the plan proposed by the Greens would end up costing taxpayers more than $10 billion a year and proposed that the most affordable solution would be to tender out Commonwealth dental health programs.

"Health funds have a proven track record in delivering affordable and efficient dental care to Australians. Allowing health funds to tender as service providers would be much more cost effective, as they already have the infrastructure to deliver low-cost oral healthcare in place," PHA CEO Dr Rachel David said in a statement.

Medicare and dental

As it stands, Medicare only provides limited cover for dental and those wishing to receive treatment will need to qualify for one of two government schemes: Child Dental Benefits Schedule and Child and Adult Public Dental Scheme. Both schemes aim to provide cover for people who need dental care but cannot afford to be privately insured.

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