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AHHA has new ideas on how to break current dental impasse

28 October, 2008

Expensive ‘high end’ treatments should be excluded from the current Medicare-based program and the saved funds put into dental services for the disadvantaged, in a proposal put forward by the Australian Healthcare and Hospitals Association (AHHA) to resolve the dental impasse in the Senate.

"The AHHA is deeply concerned about delays in resolving the implementation of the three-year $290 million Commonwealth Dental Health Program for pensioners and other low income earners because the Senate has blocked the cessation of the previous Government’s Medicare Chronic disease dental program," Prue Power, Executive Director said today.

"If the impasse is not resolved immediately, expenditure under the poorly-targeted and unrestricted Medicare chronic disease dental program is likely to blow-out to more than three times the level budgeted for the program by the previous Government.

"Nearly half of the expenditure under this program is on ‘high end’ treatments such as crowns, veneers and bridges, frequently for wealthier people with often dubious chronic diseases. It is impossible to justify priorities that see this kind of dental care funded by Government while pensioners and other low income earners cannot even get the basics," Power said

High End Expenditure in the Medicare Chronic Disease Dental Program (percentage)
State/Territory (% of expenditure on ‘high end’ treatment - crowns, veneers, etc)

NSW - 42%
VIC - 35%
QLD - 25%
SA - 30%
WA - 58%
TAS - 45%
ACT - 29%
NT - 0%
Total - 42%

"Meanwhile, because the Federal Minister approved State implementation plans in July this year, many State and Territory public dental services have committed expenditure to much-needed treatment programs under the CDHP. The eleventh hour decision to put the Commonwealth Dental Health Program on hold has placed major strains on many of these services and the dental staff who work in them.

"As a result, public dental and oral health services are having to restructure their programs, staffing and other resources. For example many clinics will have to cancel non-emergency dental care for people on waiting lists. This will lead to yet another increase in public dental waiting times when expectations had been raised that waiting times would be reduced.

"The AHHA proposes that ‘high end’ dentistry, such as crowns, bridges and veneers, be excluded from the Medicare chronic disease dental program. The Association also recommends that the eligible chronic diseases should be specified to prevent rorting – already the boundaries are being pushed on what constitutes a ‘chronic disease’ in order for people to access the program. Our recommended changes would still allow people with oral health problems that are impacting on their chronic medical conditions to get the type of dental treatment that will really make a difference to their quality of life.

"The changes would also save vastly more than the $100 million needed annually to allow the immediate introduction of the CDHP so pensioners and other low income earners can get the basic treatment they need to maintain their oral health into the future," Power said.

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