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ADA supports minister on idea of informed financial consent

11 November, 2008

The Australian Dental Association (ADA) supports informed financial consent and so agrees with the principle in comments by the Minister for Health on fee disclosure.

In a speech to the Australian Health Insurance Association Annual Conference Minister Nicola Roxon mentioned Dental Services in relation to out-of-pocket costs. “Insurers publish information about the benefits they pay for dental treatment – but consumers often don’t get information about the actual charges until after they’ve had the treatment and receive an account.”

ADA Federal President, Dr John Matthews said, “The Minister is generalising when she makes such a statement as often patients request or are offered a treatment plan before commencing treatment. The ADA supports the principle of full disclosure of fees before a course of dental treatment and encourages dentists to provide and patients to seek a full estimate of treatment in advance. This is part of the ADA’s policy1 on informed financial consent.”

“There are many health benefit funds with different rebates and multiple plans, and not all health funds make their rebates available to dentists. Also the ADA is not permitted under trade practice legislation to publish a fee scale, although dentists and the public can be informed of fee ranges via the ADA as part of its annual fee summary. A patient can verify with the dentist if the fees charged are in the median range. Limited information is available at ADA Branches.

"Given that dentists do not carry full details of health fund rebates, patients are encouraged to take their treatment plan and estimate of fees to the fund in advance to establish their out of pocket costs. This also makes sense as there are two relationships firstly between the patient and the dentist and secondly the patient and the health fund.

"Generally health fund rebates for dental treatment have not kept pace with inflation and frequently cover less than 40% of average fees. This despite health insurance premiums increasing means consumers are getting less for their money.”

Dr John Matthews said, “The ADA is concerned that health funds have not addressed the growing gap between average dental fees and average benefits paid to patients by private health funds. This failure has come at a time when insurance premiums have risen by 35% since 2002.2 It is apparent that many health funds have not passed this increase on to their customers by way of increased payments. This situation must be rectified.”