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Senate should support new proposed programs dental health

23 September, 2008

400 000 pensioners and low income earners currently on public dental waiting lists may miss out on essential dental care if the Government's planned Commonwealth Dental Health Program does not go ahead, according to the Australian Healthcare and Hospitals Association (AHHA).

The AHHA is the peak national body for public hospitals, area health services, community health centres and public aged care providers.

"The AHHA is very concerned by the Federal Minister for Health Nicola Roxon's comments that the Government may not be able to fund the Commonwealth Dental Health Program (CDHP) for pensioners and other low income earners," said Prue Power, the executive director.

"This is due to the decision of the Senate on Tuesday to disallow the closure of the previous Federal Government’s Medicare dental program. This program commenced, in its current form, in November last year just before the Federal election. It provides Medicare funded dental care, on a non means tested basis, for people with complex chronic medical conditions, on referral from a medical practitioner.

"As a result of the Senate’s decision, the Federal Minster for Health, Nicola Roxon, has indicated that the Federal Government does not have the funds to implement its election promise to introduce the CDHP this financial year.

"Without the CDHP, the around 400,000 pensioners and other low income earners on public dental waiting lists may not get the dental care they urgently need. Other eligible adults who have simply given up waiting years for treatment and not even placed their names on public waiting lists will also miss out. This could result in them developing more serious health problems which require medical treatment and in some cases hospitalisation.

"The implementation of a targeted dental program for low income earners, such as the Commonwealth Dental Health Program, was a key recommendation of the 2004 National Oral Health Plan. The recent National Survey of Adult Oral Health showed that low income earners cannot afford private dental care and are waiting until they had pain before they sought treatment. As a result, they are about twice as likely to have had all their teeth extracted. Those pensioners and low income earners who still have natural teeth had far fewer teeth left and these teeth have much more untreated dental decay.

"The AHHA is calling for urgent resolution of this impasse without delay to allow the implementation of the Commonwealth Dental Health Program to provide much needed and more timely basic dental treatment for the most economically disadvantaged groups in our community," Power said.

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