Calls for the introduction of a ‘Denticare’ program have strengthened this week, after the announcement of the Greens’ plan to introduce a Medicare-style universal insurance scheme for dental care.
The Greens $5.8 billion election policy was also backed by a Grattan Institute report that says the scheme could be funded, in part, by increasing the Medicare Levy.
According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, the cost of dental services is frequently reported as a barrier for older people accessing services. In 2013, 29 per cent of people aged 65 and over whose annual household income was below $30,000 reported avoiding or delaying dentist visits, compared with just 14 per cent of people whose household income was $60,000–$90,000.
Also, 32 per cent of people aged 65 and over who had no insurance cover for dental services reported avoiding seeing a dentist. Among people with insurance, the proportion was half of this (15 per cent). Overall, 51 per cent of older people with their own teeth, and one-quarter of older people with false teeth, had insurance cover for dental services in 2013.
Other research found that about a third of the Australian population is eligible for public dental services but there is only a capacity to provide care for about 20 per cent of those who are eligible.
Publicly-funded dental care is currently targeted towards low-income earners, with age pensioners and unemployed people eligible for services at minimal or no cost to the patient. However, public dental clinics offer limited services and long wait times often lead to poorer outcomes for people
The Grattan Institute proposes that the Government take over funding of services for those already eligible for dental care, by fully funding public dental schemes then expanding to enable private sector providers to deliver publicly funded care.
This would initially apply to the most vulnerable – age pensioners and other welfare recipients and low-income earners – then expand to the rest of the population.
“In the first instance you would start by changing the way public dental services are funded,” said report author Dr Stephen Duckett.
“Then you expand it to private dental services.
“What is staggering when you think about it, is that policy about the mouth is distinct from policy about every other aspect of the body.”
Leanne Wells from the Consumers Health Forum of Australia (CHFA) agrees.
“Dental care should be part of Medicare just as the mouth is an inseparable part of the body,” said Ms Wells.
“In a 21st century healthcare system, people should not be in a position where they are putting their dental healthcare needs last.”
Greens leader Dr Richard Di Natale admonished the Coalition for not supporting Medicare and has called on Labor to join the Greens in getting a universal dental care program off the ground.
According to our own research, fixing Health and Medicare is the second biggest election issue for older Australians. The Greens’ policy certainly seems to address this demographic. Would you be inclined to vote for a party that places a high priority on fixing Medicare and promises to introduce a universally funded dental care scheme?
Why not tell us what you think about a universal dental care scheme in our Friday Flash Poll?