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Govt fails to put bite on dental scheme

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A free dental care scheme for children, axed in the Federal Budget, will continue to operate beyond 30 June after Parliament failed to abolish it before the election.

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

It proposed a new $1.7 billion Child and Adult Public Dental Scheme (caPDS), with the Commonwealth’s contribution to the states and territories capped at 40 per cent of the national effective price for dental services, and funding available on a first-come, first-served basis.

The CDBS was due to end on 30 June, but the Government failed to get the legislation through Parliament before it was prorogued ahead of the 2 July election.

The Australian Dental Association (ADA), which is running a campaign against the closure, has urged families to take advantage of the delay.

“The ADA is encouraging all eligible patients to make appointments for treatment under the CDBS with their preferred dentist as soon as possible,” ADA President Rick Olive said.

Dr Olive said that the lack of an agreed funding distribution model “raises the spectre of a Hunger Games-style scenario” where some states and territories ended up with the lion’s share of funding, leaving the remainder with insufficient funds to meet the new demands on their public health systems.

“Additionally there is no guarantee that eligible patients from rural areas will be able to access a public dental clinic close enough to receive treatment, widening the accessibility to dental services divide still further between rural and regional Australian and their city brethren,” Dr Olive said.
In contrast, under the CDBS, rural and regional patients can simply go to their nearest participating local dentist to receive treatment.

People living in towns like Chinchilla in Queensland and Casterton in Victoria will be forced to travel long distances for dental care, or wait for services to come to them.

“The ADA supports enshrining funding for states and territories in legislation,” Dr Olive said.

“However, without a fair distribution model and guarantees that eligible patients have the choice to either access public clinics or their local dentist appropriate to their specific circumstances, patients from smaller states and regional and rural areas stand a real risk of missing out on dental care under the Coalition’s caPDS.”

Maria Hawthorne