Labor leader Bill Shorten has pledged $2.4 billion towards dental care for age pensioners and anyone holding a Commonwealth Seniors Health Care Card.
Labor will offer $1000 over a two-year period or $500 a year for dental work under Medicare.
“Our plan will provide up to $1000 every two years to help pay for dental services for 2.6 million people on the Age Pension,” said Mr Shorten.
“And another 380,000 Australians who hold a Commonwealth Seniors Healthcare Card will get the same benefit.”
The announcement was made on Sunday amidst a string of other policies including a wage increase for early childhood educators and increases to childcare subsidies.
The total cost of these plans would total $7 billion. Labor says it has the big-spending policies covered by taxing the “big end of town”, with changes to negative gearing and removing tax cuts and other tax loopholes, including franking credits.
Mr Shorten has offered $1000 in dental subsidies to pensioners and 380,000 seniors who aren’t pensioners but who hold a healthcare card and, if elected, promised to negotiate with the states for a much larger federal-funded oral health program.
Private dentists will be able to bulk-bill up to $1000 over two years for eligible patients under Medicare and amounts above the $1000 may still be covered by health insurance.
“It will not come out of your bank account. It will not go on your credit card. You will not have to delay treatment because you can’t afford the care,” said Mr Shorten. “It will be covered by your Medicare card.
“All of us know these things undermine your quality of life, your self-confidence, your basic dignity,” he said. “If you cannot get your teeth fixed, you are deprived of the simple joys.”
Shadow health minister Catherine King called the announcement the next step in “Labor’s vision of universal access to dental care in Australia”.
“We know that older Australians, one in five older Australians, have no natural teeth, and one in two suffer from gum disease – moderate to severe,” said Ms King.
“We know that for older Australians, this affects their health across the course of the rest of their life.
“Labor wants to expand dental when it comes to our Medicare system. This is a major investment in the cost of living for pensioners and senior Australians and something I am very proud of.”
The policy comes on the heels of the Greens proposing a $3.5 billion extension to Medicare that would fund dental care for pensioners, seniors, carers, people on the disability support pension, concession cardholders and all children and teenagers.
In a Flash Poll conducted by YourLifeChoices, 90 per cent of the respondents were in favour of the Greens’ proposal to introduce a universal dental care insurance scheme similar to Medicare and more than 60 per cent said they would vote for a party that promised to deliver such a scheme.
Many retirees are maddened by Labor’s plans to remove franking credit refunds, but Labor may be looking to soften the blow – and perhaps swing a few votes – with this little ‘sweetener’.
The Flash Poll revealed that 41 per cent of over 55s visit a dentist annually, although almost half (48 per cent) do not have private health insurance. Of those who do have private health insurance, 47 per cent say dental is not part of their cover and only 10 per cent of private health insurance holders have full dental as part of their cover.
While Labor has made big promises, it has still not released independent costings for the proposal. The Coalition quickly took the opportunity to highlight a potential cost blowout as a result of Mr Shorten’s plan.
“This latest promise also runs the risk of a major blowout, with no information on how it will not lead to higher dental costs and a profit windfall for dental companies, which is exactly a repeat of their pathology scandal,” said Health Minister Greg Hunt.
Labor’s announcements have curried favour with the Australian Dental Association (ADA), the Consumers’ Health Forum and the Australian Healthcare and Hospitals Association (AHHA).
ADA president Carmelo Bonanno told The Australian it was “critically important that a Labor government works with the ADA in developing the finer details … as there are a number of issues that need to be addressed to ensure a smooth implementation and greatest uptake of the scheme”, while AHHA chief executive Alison Verhoeven said “public dental health services have been grossly underfunded for too long”.
Pre-polling begins today, and the election campaign will run for three weeks before Australians take to the polls on 18 May.