New data reveals insured patients can still face significant out-of-pocket dental costs

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Photo: Shao-Chun – 123rf

Australians often face costs when receiving dental care and even those who are covered by private health insurance can still be out of pocket up to almost $2000 for some dental procedures, according to a report just released by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW).

The report, ‘Oral health and dental care in Australia’, draws together data from a variety of sources to explore the oral health of Australians and their use of dental care services.

Recent data published by the Australian Bureau of Statistics shows that in 2017–18, half of Australians aged 15 and over said they had seen a dentist over the past 12 months.

However, a national study of adult oral health conducted by the University of Adelaide found that in the same year, about two in five said they avoided or delayed visiting a dentist due to the cost, and this was more common among people who were not covered by private health insurance.

“More than half of people without insurance said they avoided the dentist because of the cost, compared with about one in four people with insurance,” AIHW spokesperson Dr Adrian Webster said.

Even those people who receive dental treatment using their private health insurance can face substantial out-of-pocket costs. For example, the median out-of-pocket cost after using their health insurance for a full crown was $786. However, there was a great deal of variation between patients, with some paying as little as $26 out of their own pockets, and others paying $1989.

Other, more routine procedures also saw great variation in out-of-pocket costs even after private health insurance payments.

The report further suggests that some Australians are more likely to see cost as a barrier than other groups. For example, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people were more likely to report avoiding the dentist due to cost than non-Indigenous Australians, and females were more likely than males.

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