18 May 2021
Teeth left out again in Budget
The Victorian Oral Health Alliance, a coalition of dental health professional, service and consumer organisations, is disappointed that once again the mouth has been left out of the body in the Federal Budget. This again highlights the lack of understanding of the importance of good oral health and the links to general health.
Public oral health care is at a crisis point, with for example average waiting times for basic dental care of 17.5 months across Victoria, but up to 30 months in some parts of the state. With access to care delayed due to COVID-19 restrictions, we expect that these waiting times nationally will continue to increase. The Royal Commission into Aged Care Safety and Quality has also highlighted the significant neglect of oral health in residential aged care and recommended a Senior Dental Benefits Scheme be established under Medicare to make access to care much easier and affordable.
The need for the Morrison Government to make a greater investment into improving the oral health of vulnerable Australians is clear.
What we got instead was an announcement of an extension to the National Partnership Agreement on Public Dental Services for Adults for 2021/22 – funding that had already been provided by the Government – and an extension of the eligibility for the Child Dental Benefits Scheme to children under the age of 2 years.
Whilst VOHA welcomes the extension of funding for the National Partnership Agreement for another year, of real concern is that the funding amount – $107.9m for 2021/22 – has not increased since 2017/18. It also reinforces the piecemeal approach to dental funding. The extension does not provide any certainty to public dental agencies beyond 2022. There is a real need for an overhaul to public dental funding to ensure a sustainable system that will improve access to dental care for vulnerable Victorians.
VOHA does welcome the extension of the eligibility for the Child Dental Benefits Scheme (CDBS) to children under two years old, as at least 10% of children experience tooth decay by the age of 1 year, and the need for early intervention and prevention is critical. However, there was a missed opportunity to extend the scheme to provide funding for treatment provided under general anaesthetic, and care provided by dental students. Dental problems are the leading cause of preventable hospitalisation amongst Australian children (over 25,000 p.a.), and public dental services are not adequately funded to manage this care. Extending the CDBS to treatment provided under general anaesthetic would increase access to these much need services across the sector.
Hundreds of thousands of older Australians will continue to miss out on vital dental care as the Government has not yet invested in establishing a Seniors Dental Benefits Scheme. VOHA urges the Morrison Government to listen to consumers and oral health professionals, and to make a significant investment in improving the oral health of all Australians.
Contact Tony McBride – VOHA Spokesperson 0407 531 468