Minister for Health and Aged Care Sussan Ley announced new funding arrangements which will see a reduction in funding for both adult dental services and the Child Dental Benefits Schedule (CDBS), to take effect from 1 January 2017.
Under the National Partnership Agreement (NPA), states and territories will now receive a collective $320 million over the next three years – a significant reduction from the $391 million per year promised in the 2013-14 Budget. The CDBS will see the maximum benefits cap reduced over the next two years from $1,000 to $700 per child, per year.
Ms Ley’s office explained that the reductions in funding were tailored to utilisation patterns, which showed that most children claimed well below the $1,000 funding cap. The average benefit claimed per patient is just $302.
To offset the budget cuts, the Government has allocated $11 million in extra funding over the next two years to the Royal Flying Doctor Service. This will expand its provision of dental and medical services to people in remote parts of Australia.
“This significant boost will mean that Australians living in many remote communities, where dental outcomes are often poor, will have access to high-quality, mobile dental care,” Ms Ley said.
The government’s retention of the CDBS also means it will not proceed with the proposed Child and Adult Public Dental Scheme, a combination scheme which did not receive backing from all states.
What public dental services can I get?
There are a number of basic dental services that you can get for free under Medicare, all of which are funded by the aforementioned NPA and CDBS schemes. Children between 2 and 17 years of age are covered for services including examinations, cleaning, fillings, extractions, X-rays and several more. Cosmetic and orthodontic work is not covered; nor are hospital services.
Adult dental services are provided on a state-by-state basis under the NPA, meaning services can vary depending which state or territory you live in. Each state has numerous public dental clinics where you can access basic dental services for free, provided you can present some form of Health Care card, Pensioner discount card or Seniors card. You can look up your nearest public dental clinic on your state or territory government website – for instance, the Queensland locations can be found here.
The funding cuts will mean up to 338,000 Australians lose access to public dental services next year, according to Australian Healthcare & Hospitals Association Chief Executive Alison Verhoeven.
“It’s harsh and particularly heartless that the government has seen fit to compromise the dental health of those Australians least able to afford proper dental care,” Ms Verhoeven said.
“We welcome that the government has committed to continue public funding for child dental health through the Child Dental Benefits Schedule.
“But we do not welcome that funding per child is to be reduced … The government’s own figures show that for about 1 in 5 children using the schedule, more than $700 per year is being spent.”
The Australian Dental Association (ADA) also expressed its reservations about the funding cuts, saying that the new funding means the Government has committed just $97 million per year towards dental care for the next 2.5 years.
Through a statement from Federal President Dr Hugo Sachs, the ADA welcomed the continuation of the CDBS and the decision to drop the “poorly designed” child and adult scheme, but disapproved of the continued reductions in monetary aid.
“The ADA laments the reduction in the cap available for the CDBS as it means that 1 in 5 children will not be able to get all their treatment needs met,” Dr Sachs stated.
“This means that children with the greatest need may miss out. It is not clear what will happen to children who need treatment that’s more than $700 / 2 years.
“Processes need to be put in place to ensure these children don’t end up being part of long dental waiting list in the public dental system.”
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