Every Australian child – and millions of low-income adults – will be eligible for subsidised dental care under an ambitious new Turnbull government plan.
Health Minister Sussan Ley has announced $5 billion in frontline dental health funding over the next four years, including $2.1 billion for what’s being called the Child and Adult Public Dental Scheme, or caPDS.
But Labor says the government’s announcement is “spin” that actually hides a $1 billion health cut.
The new scheme will provide more than 10 million Australians – all 5.3 million children aged under 18 and 5 million adults with Commonwealth concession cards – access to public dental through a single five-year agreement with the states. The deal will be enshrined in legislation to provide long-term certainty, Ms Ley said.
Describing the scheme as a “landmark reform”, the Health Minister said the government’s plan represented a doubling of Commonwealth funding for dental health.
The new scheme will replace the current “underperforming” means-tested Child Dental Benefits Scheme and adult dental National Partnership Agreement. The CDBS, introduced by Labor, covers just 3 million children.
Ms Ley said the government was laying the foundations for a “fair and equitable” scheme that Australia could afford now and into the future.
“We are significantly increasing Commonwealth investment in frontline public dental services and we expect the result to be an extra 600,000 public dental patients treated every year as a direct result,” Ms Ley said.
“That’s because we know that poor dental health can negatively impact on every aspect of a person’s life from their health and wellbeing through to employment and economic opportunities. After all, poor dental health is the third highest cause of preventable hospital admissions, with more than 63,000 Australians hospitalised each year.”
Labor’s health spokeswoman Catherine King said the government was scrapping a well-targeted plan and replacing it with a scheme that few children would be able to benefit from.
“Under the government’s scheme, children will only receive assistance if they attend already overcrowded public dental clinics,” Ms King said in a statement.
“In its first two budgets the Abbott government cut half a billion dollars out of these same public dental services, causing public dental waiting lists to blow out across the country.”
The government says its investment will be accompanied by an expanded range of Commonwealth-subsidised, clinically-necessary services for under 18s not covered under current CDBS arrangements.
To support the scheme, the government will establish a national efficient price for dental procedures, much like those already used to determine hospital funding. States will have the flexibility to contract private dentists where services gaps arise.
In addition to public funding, Ms Ley said the government would continue to invest heavily over the next four years in supporting dental patients through other means such as the private health rebate, Medicare-funded in-hospital dental services, and dental infrastructure in rural and remote Australia.