Deceptive dental plan is ‘smoke and mirrors’

3 minute read

Plans to axe a dental scheme for disadvantaged children will strip $1 billion from dental health services


Federal Health Minister Sussan Ley seems to have conceded her plan to axe a dental scheme for disadvantaged children will strip $1 billion from dental health services

Ms Ley has come under attack over her $2.1 billion plan to create a new unified program covering children and adult concession card holders, which she said would double the commonwealth’s investment in frontline dental health services.

Dentists and other health practitioners say the decision to chop the Child Dental Benefits Scheme as of 1 July will in fact remove $1 billion from dental health over five years, pass responsibility to over-stretched state health systems and lead to worse health outcomes.

With the opposition seizing on the dental plan as an election issue in marginal electorates, the minister says the new scheme will provide better value for money.

“There is $1 billion, but it is Labor’s $1 billion. They took it out of Medicare and spent it on other things.” Ms Ley said in parliament on Monday. “When you talk about $1 billion being removed from dental services, it is actually Labor’s $1 billion.”

The Medicare-funded CDBS, adopted in 2014, gives children from low-income families up to $1000 in benefits every two years for use at a dentist of their choice. With a bulk-billing rate of 97%, it has reached about one million kids a year, or 30% of the target group.

The Australian Dental Association says that looks like a successful record, providing care to children in the lowest socioeconomic group for a cost of about $312 each.

The ADA has urged the government to drop the new Child and Adult Public Dental Scheme (caPDS), announced by Ms Ley on 23 April.

It says the new plan holds out a “false promise” to expand subsidised dental care to all children and will consign the poorest to public waiting lists.

“The state and territory public-sector dental services are already over-extended with waiting lists of between nine months to three years,” ADA president Dr Rick Olive said.

“What is happening is the government is promising delivery but it is doing it in such a way that the services will not, in fact, be accessible. It’s smoke and mirrors.”

Dr Tim Woodruff, of the Doctors Reform Society, said the plan was an “outrageous attack on the dental health of millions of Australians, especially children”.

“We know oral health is the second or third commonest reason for avoidable hospital admissions. This is a complete backward step, waiting lists are going to soar.”

The National Oral Health Alliance, representing 10 peak bodies, noted two independent reviews found the means-tested CDBS for children aged 2-17 was effective but under-utilised because of poor publicity work by the Department of Human Services.

The new arrangement will risk delaying preventive care for disadvantaged children, it says.

“States and territories will have to make choices about allocations, and children will miss out,” NOHA spokesman Tony McBride told TMR.

Professor Clive Wright, a former chief dentist of NSW, says he is concerned about a squeeze on dental health services for elderly patients in aged-care facilities and those with co-morbidities who are reliant on state-provided services.

“You can’t expect those patients to go back on public dental waiting lists,” said Professor Wright, associate director of Sydney University’s Centre for Education and Research on Ageing.

The ADA welcomes a pledge to protect commonwealth contributions to states’ dental services with legislation, but says there’s no money for extra infrastructure and personnel to make the caPDS plan workable.



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