Federal Health Minister Nicola Roxon has floated the idea of extending the Medicare Teen Dental plan to all age groups as a way of addressing public concerns about oral health. Her suggestion came about as a way of honouring Labor’s commitment to the Greens to deal with dental health in the next Budget.
It is unclear whether any extension of Teen Dental would work with, or separately from, the Government’s long-promised, never-delivered Commonwealth Dental Health Program, or the existing EPC scheme (which the Minister has tried unsuccessfully to stop), or Denticare, or the ADA’s DentalAccess program.
The Minister’s plan-revealed in an ‘exclusive’ report in News Ltd papers in Brisbane, Adelaide and Sydney-involves a plan where families earning up to $110,000 a year could get help with serious dental bills in a voucher system very similar to Teen Dental.
The Greens’ dental policy, as presented at the last election, is to adopt both Denticare and the Commonwealth Dental Health Program. However, the News Ltd newspaper revealed there was some concern on the Health Minister’s part as to the cost of a universal public dental scheme.
To control costs, a means test would need to be applied to Medicare benefits and Ms Roxon said she would have “very serious concerns about applying a means test in any way to Medicare”.
That’s why she is considering expanding the teen dental plan. “Technically the structure of the dental benefits scheme we set up for teen dental is separate (to Medicare),” Ms Roxon said.
“I think there is potential, it has been a successful program for delivering the service.You could extend the age, you could extend different treatments available under it.”
Ms Roxon has invited the independents, the Greens and the dental workforce to put their ideas on the table so a detailed discussion can be held on dental reform. Dentists have criticised the plan because it did not pay for fillings or problems discovered during the check-up.
NSW independent Rob Oakeshott said he was keen to “turn around these disgraceful waiting list figures for public oral health”.
“The ADA has recommended a DentalAccess program with better standards in dentistry, better education in the community, and better rural and remote delivery,” he said. “This is worth consideration, as is a private voucher program.”