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ADA responds to claims that dentistry doesn't fit with Medicare

27 March, 2008

The Australian Dental Association (ADA) has responded to calls that dental services be covered under Medicare by responding that they are totally misplaced.

Dental treatment is not suitable under Medicare. Due to its nature, dentistry was never intended to be included under Medicare when it was first conceived. Evidence presented by Professor John Deeble, one of the founders of Medicare, said:

“The main problem with Medicare covering the (dental) industry is its basic uninsurability. It does not come randomly … It has to be said that insurance works best for things that are episodic and unpredictable. Dental illness is slow: it is not episodic and it is not unpredictable, because you know you have it for quite a long time. You do not suddenly discover that you have a dental problem. It should be treated, but it should not be treated within an insurance approach. It should be a program that is different from an insurance concept, because it just does not work that way. That is why it was never added.”

Oral diseases, unlike medical diseases, are largely predictable and as such do not have the essential characteristics of an insurable risk. Medical diseases have characteristics of an insurable risk.

They are ‘unpostponable, unpredictable and unbudgetable.’

Federal Labor’s recent dental announcements have resulted in some sectors calling for dentistry to be placed under Medicare. The ADA does not agree.

The ADA believes the solution rests in targeted funding. In funding oral health care delivery programs for eligible groups and individuals, Government assistance should be directed preferentially to those in greatest financial and oral health need.

There is a need to target money and resources to those that currently have very poor or restricted access to dental care and it should be coupled with the development of a coordinated preventive program in dental health education.

Dr John Matthews President of the ADA said: “To make all dentistry universally available to the community through Medicare would be ‘fiscally irresponsible’ and unlikely ‘to deliver quality dental care’.”

“Medicare is already under severe financial strain and the addition of a comprehensive universal dental scheme would simply lead to total collapse unless significant increases in the Medicare levy were to be introduced. This has been estimated by the Australian Health Insurance Association to be in the amount of $6.9 billion.

With current expenditure on dentistry being $5.5 billion per annum this estimate may be an underestimation. Two recent Parliamentary hearings have agreed that the creation of a scheme providing universal dental care to all Australians through Medicare was inappropriate.”