2011 was set to be the year of the dental program. Thanks to an agreement reached between the Greens and Labor in order to form Government, Labor promised to introduce funding for dental health services in this year’s budget. Yet, with the Government now preparing everybody to expect a ‘tough budget’, it seems less and less likely that there will be the type of funding needed to make a significant improvement to the state of the nation’s dental health. So what are we to expect for dental health in the near future at both a state and federal level?
Change of state government in NSW
During the recent NSW State Election, Labor promised a $12.5 million increase in funding (which would do little to dent the waiting list) and the Coalition Government promised to establish a ministerial taskforce to develop a NSW Dental Health Action Plan.
Through the available information, it would seem that the NSW Government believes that the Australian Government should have more of a role and greater funding responsibility for dental health.
Because of this, it also seems that they are waiting to see what the Australian Government announces and does before making any significant announcements themselves.
Federal Budget 2011
As mentioned, this year’s budget was set up to be one where major dental health funding was to be announced.
However, the Australian Government has argued that because of the summer’s natural disasters, health and welfare will have to take a hit.
This is despite the fact that while they are planning funding cuts in health and welfare, they are still planning to go ahead with tax cuts for big business. The one per cent tax cut will equal approximately $18 billion over the next ten years according to the Greens.
With that sort of money, we could fund a dental system and increase pensions and allowance payments to boot.
It has seemed likely that some form of funding for dental health will be announced. After all, there have been enough reports in the press about possible programs.
As readers of last month’s edition of THE VOICE will remember, there has been a proposal to introduce a scheme based on the current Teen Dental program, where there is basic treatment provided but nothing for serious conditions.
Another proposal has been to again reintroduce the Commonwealth Dental Scheme. It would need some serious funding to make a substantial difference.
However, in the last couple of weeks Labor has put the dampener on any form of dental health reform.
According to The Australian (7 April 2011), a new dental program was “not going to be achievable in this budget” because there was “no magic pudding” of money available.
Anything new would have to be small, with more funding to come in later budgets, according to the newspaper.
However, there are concerns that in order to introduce a new dental program, Federal Labor may attempt to cut the Enhanced Primary Care (EPC) dental scheme once again.
Both the expense of the EPC scheme and claims of dentists rorting the scheme have been cited as reasons why it should be axed.
CPSA has argued that the scheme’s growing expense is simply a sign of its success at improving the country’s poor dental health.
Furthermore, any poor paperwork or rorting by dentists is a sign of poor administration, not of a poor scheme.
Yet, if the EPC scheme was to be axed or have significant cuts made to it, this would seem to require the Greens doing a u-turn on their previous position where they voted twice to maintain it.
CPSA, as part of the Alliance for Universal Dental Health Insurance, has maintained its calls for a universal dental health scheme that would use the EPC scheme as its base. The EPC scheme should first be expanded to low-income earners and then gradually expanded to the rest of the community.
At a state level, as a part of the Oral Health Alliance, CPSA has also maintained calls for the NSW Government to take up its responsibilities to adequately fund state public dental services.
NSW has the lowest level of funding for dental services by any state or territory at just $23.45 per person. Another $102.5 million is required to make a proper dent into the waiting list that is currently 120,000 people long.