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ADA says the govt is still failing to deliver quality dental health

27 May, 2008

The Australian Dental Association (ADA) welcomes targeted federal funds for dental care to needy Australians, but is concerned that the newly created Commonwealth Dental Health Plan (CDHP) and Teen Dental Plan should have been better linked.

Commonwealth Dental Health Plan – “too little for too few”
“For far too long, the States and Territories of Australia have failed to meet their obligations to ensure proper delivery of dental care to poor and disadvantaged Australians. This Government had the opportunity to rectify some of the specific deficiencies that existed by introducing some coordinated plans that are able to be built upon or modified to meet future needs,” says Dr John Matthews, Federal President of the Australian Dental Association.
“Instead it has provided the State/Territory Health Services with additional funding [less than provided more than 10 years ago] to prop up schemes that have not delivered to date. It’s a Band-Aid solution at best.”
The ADA had advised Government that the previous Commonwealth Dental Health Plan was deficient in that it failed to seek accountability from the States as to their contributions to the provision of dental health. Despite the ADA’s calls for the creation of an improved CDHP seeking such accountability from the States as a prerequisite for funding, such calls for responsible Government have been ignored.  
“We have just seen the Victorian Government increase dental health expenditure by 1 per cent only, compared to health inflation rates of about 5 per cent. Already the States are anticipating federal funding and thus reducing their own commitments.
“The ADA welcomes that the Federal Government has now taken some responsibility for dental health delivery. However it must ensure that its further contribution is at least matched by the States and not used as an offset to State and Territory funding.”
The CDHP delivers too little for too few people and will not be effective.
Instead of having one global CDHP providing general financial assistance to the States/Territories, the ADA calls for:
1. The Government to identify specific areas for improvement – such as dental care for the aged or those with special needs – and focus on funding and giving attention to these areas.  
2. One CDHP with separate targeted objectives meeting the specific sector needs of disadvantaged Australians.  
Teen Dental Plan – Some Good, Some Bad - “no follow through”

This is a basic plan with some merit but with refinement it could deliver much more.
When advised of this proposal, the ADA called on the Government to consider expanding eligibility under the scheme to a wider age group than just teens. It advised Government that relatively good dental care for that age group was already available through State/Territory school programs or through the public sector.  
The ADA suggested that Australians in their early twenties have shown a significant susceptibility to dental decay. Incentives for private health cover are not available for this age group and many have moved away from parental support and supervision. Improving access to dental care would therefore have directed care to a targeted group that needs special attention.
“Unfortunately the failure to address this will mean that many in this susceptible group will now go uninsured and will not be able to access the degree of care they require. It provides little assistance to too few,” says Dr Matthews.
A $150 voucher for a dental check-up to an eligible teenager will put many teenagers on the right path to dental health. However the scheme will fail those that have any serious dental problems.
If significant problems are detected, the voucher will not allow for a complete course of treatment. These teenagers will have to go back onto the public sector waiting lists, where they may have to wait years for their treatment to be completed.
This is a serious defect – the Teen Dental Plan really only fully serves the moderately healthy and fails to cater for those with serious oral care needs.
The ADA calls for:
1. Expansion of the eligible group to people up to age 25.
2. Funding to be made available to treat those patients, who on examination under the Teen Dental Plan are found to be in a significant state of bad dental health, so that they can be treated quickly and not be required to return to the deplorably long public sector waiting lists to receive essential treatment.
ADA Dental Plan

The ADA’s budget submission would see a modest increase in funding and offers a comprehensive plan that has the support of the profession. There is diminished capacity in the public sector so private dentists will need to be involved. Also included is more funding for prevention and the introduction of an intern year to boost the numbers of public sector dentists and allied personnel.