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Dental details still unclear

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Main points

  • ·         $1.7 billion for new Child and Adult Public Dental Scheme
  • ·         Payments to be made directly to States and Territories
  • ·         Savings of $17 million over the forward estimates

Health experts say the details of the new $1.7 billion Child and Adult Public Dental Scheme remain sketchy, even after Treasurer Scott Morrison handed down the Federal Budget on 3 May.

Details of the scheme were leaked a fortnight before the Budget, sparking criticism from dentists and the opposition that it amounted to a $1 billion funding cut.

At the time of the announcement, Health Minister Sussan Ley’s office said the States would get a 40 per cent increase in funding under the changes.

The Budget papers said payments would be made directly to States and Territories to improve patient waiting times and help more concession card holders.

But Dr Stephen Duckett, director of the Grattan Institute’s health program, said it was still not clear how the scheme would work.

“The details are still not clear but it appears States will be asked to contribute to funding this policy,” Dr Duckett said.

“The Commonwealth funding comes from chopping the Child Dental Benefits Scheme so in fact this is a savings initiative over the forward estimates to the tune of $17 million.”

The Government said it was abolishing the former Labor government’s Child Dental Benefits Scheme because it was a failure, treating less than one-third of eligible children and with $4 million of incorrect claims being investigated.

But the Australian Dental Association (ADA) described the new scheme as “smoke and mirrors” that effectively reduced funding from $615 million a year to $425 million.

“Supposedly the new Plan will see a reduction in Commonwealth funding which will magically make dental services available to more Australians by enabling them to access the public sector for care,” ADA President Rick Olive said.

“This is fanciful. The State and Territory public sector dental services are already over extended with waiting lists of between nine months to three years depending which state you consider. 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.”

Shadow Health Minister Catherine King said scrapping the Child Dental Benefits Scheme would deny millions of Australian children, many of whom had never before been able to afford dental treatment, access to ongoing affordable dental care.

Maria Hawthorne