Millions to get free care under $4b dental reform package
Millions of children and low-income patients will get free dental care under a landmark $4 billion package of reforms announced by Health Minister Tanya Plibersek today.
Announcing the changes this morning, Ms Plibersek said providing free care would cut waiting lists, free up "massive resources" in the dental sector, and improve the dental health of people across the country.
But the Opposition says the scheme is just another unfunded promise, with shadow treasurer Joe Hockey urging the Government to "come clean" about where the money will come from.
Ms Plibersek said the spending would be in two key areas:
$2.7 billion to provide subsidised treatment for children aged between 2 and 18 years whose families are eligible for family tax benefit A.
$1.3 billion on early intervention care for 5 million low-income Australians and those in remote rural areas.
"We will have a generation of kids for whom going to the dentist is as easy as going to the doctor," she said.
The deal has been brokered with the Greens and was announced with Greens Senator Richard Di Natale in attendance this morning.
Under the scheme, due to start next June, children will be eligible for up to $1,000 in free care over a two-year period.
Ms Plibersek said parents would have to present a Medicare card to get the free treatment for their children.
She said there would be "no fee at all" at bulk-billing dentists and that around 3.4 million children would be eligible.
The $1.3b for low-income patients is aimed at cutting waiting lists and treating dental problems before they become too serious.
"By taking care of the waiting lists we can reset the way that public dental systems work, so that they're not just working with the most desperate people who've got teeth falling out of their mouths and abscesses, they'll be able to go back to do a filling instead of an extraction," she said.
"They'll have capacity to do check-ups and call people in regularly for check-ups and basic dental work.
"So I believe this is an incredibly important investment for those people who are eligible for treatment in the public dental system."
Paying for it
Ms Plibersek said the money was in addition to the $515 million announced in the 2012-13 Budget.
But she warned that the $4b package was contingent on the states and territories continuing to fund dental care at or above their current levels of spending.
Ms Plibersek would not say how the Government would pay for the changes, promising it would be revealed in the mid-year review.
Ms Plibersek also said the Government was scrapping the Chronic Disease Dental Scheme, championed by Opposition Leader Tony Abbott during his time as health minister in the Howard government.
"That is a scheme thought up by Tony Abbott in the last dying days of the Howard Government. It's been one of the most widely misused schemes ever designed in our public health system," she said.
"This is a scheme that Tony Abbott as Health Minister said would cost $90 million a year, it's costing about $80 million a month now and there has been massive over-servicing and reports of rorting in this scheme.
"There have been dentists charging millions of dollars, in some cases doing work that is completely unnecessary and in some cases charging for work that hasn't even been done.
"It is an extremely poorly designed scheme and I am very pleased to be seeing the back of it."
Mr Abbott fired back at a press conference in Townsville today, saying the Government could not be trusted with public money.
"The Gillard Government has plainly given up on any attempt to get the Budget back into surplus. We are seeing the Gillard Government spending like the proverbial drunken sailor," he said.
"There's more money for Gonski, there's apparently going to be more money for dentistry, there's a $5 billion-plus blow-out in border protection costs on top of the $1.3 billion a year that will cost to increase the immigration intake.
"This is a Government which knows that it is not going to deliver the promised surplus and this is a Government which will do almost anything to avoid the humiliation of having to admit that it can't be trusted with public money."
Council on the Ageing chief executive Ian Yates says he would still like to see a full-scale denticare scheme, but is pleased with today's announcement.
"We hope that this will mean that we can have much more preventative dentistry and maintenance dentistry rather than the crisis nature of public dental programs at the moment," he said.
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29-Aug-2012 06:40 PMO you who believe! Stand out firmly for All‚h as just witnesses and let not the enmity and hatred of others make you avoid justice. Be just: that is nearer to piety, and fear All‚h. Verily, All‚h is Well-Acquainted with what you do. (Al-Mā'idah: 8)
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30-Aug-2012 07:27 AM
At least the problem of dental care is being addressed by someone.. good on them for the initiative and I hope they do fund it and increase the funding so we can all benefit from an important and serious health issue that has been neglected for far too long.Allah is sufficient for us and He is the best Disposer of Affairs..
30-Aug-2012 01:35 PM
We probably would have had this 35 years ago if the CIA hadn't overthrown the Whitlam Government.Singapore: oppresses Muslims, bans athaan, bans hijab in schools, prevents building of madrassahs or muslim schools, puts limit on the percentage of Muslims allowed in each apartment building, and bans Muslims from joining Singapore's elite military forces. Singapore; Israel's best buddy!