Meeting dental and oral health care needs of disadvantaged Australians

Continuing a theme which has formed the basis of pre-budget submissions in 2016-17, 2017-18 and 2019-20, the ADA has used the 2020-21 pre-budget submission to call for the Australian Government to provide additional targeted and sustainable funding to address the unmet oral and dental health care needs of Australians identified in reports of both the National Advisory Council on Dental Health (2012) and the COAG Health Council (2004 and 2014) as “priority” groups because they experience “the greatest burden of poor oral health” and “the most significant barriers to accessing oral health care”.

These priority groups include low-income or socially disadvantaged adults, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, the frail aged and those with disabilities, and adults living outside major population centres all of whom face a range of cost and non-cost related barriers to good oral health and accessing regular and timely preventive (and remedial) oral and dental health care.

While the oral health needs of these groups are pressing and deemed a priority by the Australian National Oral Health Plan, the Australian Government has done little in recent years to implement the report, choosing instead to provide as much financial support for dental care through the private health insurance rebate (which disproportionately benefits middle and higher income earners) as it provides to low-income households through the CDBS and the National Partnership Agreement on Public Dental Services for Adults.

Overall funding for dental services to the groups of disadvantaged Australians is insufficient, with other funding options needing to be considered, a discussion in which the ADA has asked to be involved, especially in the lead up to the expiry of the National Partnership Agreement, which supplies funding for adult public dental services to state and territory governments, later this year.

It is a conversation that is urgently needed with insufficient funding of dental services to the priority groups such that there is a large amount of unmet need among them, with the National Study of Adult Oral Health (NSAOH) 2017–18 revealing that on some indicators, oral health and access to oral and dental health care in Australia is declining.

The ADA argues in its pre-budget submission that the Australian Government should use the upcoming 2020-21 Budget to make a start on providing this leadership and addressing these areas of dental need, modelled on the ADA’s Australian Dental Health Plan 2019 which proposes a model that would retain the CDBS (with some modifications) and use it as a template for two additional targeted dental benefits schemes:

– an Adult Dental Benefits Schedule targeted towards low-income adults aged 18-64 who hold any type of Australian government-issued Health Care Card (including the Low Income Health Care Card) or Pensioner Concession Card, plus their eligible dependents, and

– a Seniors Dental Benefits Schedule for those aged 65 and over who hold a Pensioner Concession Card, a Commonwealth Seniors Card, or a Health Care Card issued by the Australian Government (and, in a small number of cases, any eligible dependents).

In addition, the ADA argues that in keeping with the government’s intention to develop a National Preventive Health Strategy during 2020, the government should take immediate action on a range of prevention-oriented initiatives designed to reduce the incidence of oral disease.

In a period marked by declining access to timely and affordable oral and dental health care, and significant deteriorations in several indices of adult oral health, the ADA strongly encourages the Australian Government to begin staged implementation of measures set out in the ADHP in the upcoming 2020-2021 Budget.

For the full submission, go to the Australian Dental Association 2020–21 Pre-Budget Submission

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