Despite repeated research findings demonstrating the serious health, social and economic impact of poor access to dental care, neither the Commonwealth nor state/territory governments appear to be taking responsibility for addressing this major gap in the Australian health system.
Chair of the Australian Healthcare Reform Alliance (AHCRA), Jennifer Doggett, explains why AHCRA is running a social media campaign calling for the Commonwealth to take a leadership role in dental health and address the barriers to access experienced by many Australians.
Jennifer Doggett writes:
A recent report from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) found that almost one-third of people put off or avoid going to the dentist altogether due to the cost.
AIHW found that forty-four per cent of uninsured people were avoiding appointments altogether and even among those who had visited a dentist in the previous 12 months, 20 per cent did not go ahead with the recommended treatment because of the cost.
Private health insurance (PHI) is clearly not the answer to affordability issues for many people, with 20 per cent of people with PHI reporting that they avoided the dentist due to the associated costs.
The Australian Healthcare Reform Alliance (AHCRA) believes that all Australians should have access to high quality, preventive oral health care.
This is not just an equity issue. Preventable dental problems place a significant economic and social burden on our health system and community as a whole.
AHCRA believes that part of the problem is the way in which dental services are treated as separate from other types of health care.
This makes no sense. Oral health is a fundamental part of overall health and well-being and without good oral health care, people are at a much higher risk of many systemic health problems.
Currently, preventable oral health problems are responsible for over 60 000 avoidable hospital admissions every year.
This means higher health care costs and an overall increase in social and economic inequality in our community.
Due to Australia’s complex health system, there is no single solution to ensuring all Australians can access oral health care.
However, AHCRA believes that our approach to dental care can only improve if the Commonwealth retains and enhances its role in this area.
AHCRA is concerned that the Turnbull Government is trying to hand responsibility for public dental services to the states and territories.
For example, the 2016 Budget proposal to close the Child Dental Benefits Scheme (CDBS) would reduce Commonwealth spending on dental health by $200 million
The future of the CDBS is currently unclear but if the Budget proposal is implemented, the Commonwealth’s contribution to dental care will be reduced to $42 per person targeted by Commonwealth-funded programs.
AHCRA believes that the more the Commonwealth walks away from direct responsibility for dental care, the more likely it is that the oral health status of the community will decline, in particular among those already at risk.
This will reduce the health status of the community overall, increase existing inequities and result in higher costs to the health system and community as a whole.
This is why AHCRA is running the #keepdentalcentral campaign to highlight the need for the Commonwealth to strengthen its responsibility for dental policies and programs.
Along with the other members of the National Oral Health Alliance (NOHA), AHCRA believes that to achieve the best outcomes, dental services need to be planned and delivered in the context of other community-based health services.
As NOHA members we work together to support governments and professional bodies to improve oral and dental health in Australia with the goal of ‘A healthy mouth for all Australians’.
AHCRA would welcome support for our campaign from other health groups who share our belief that all Australians should have access to high quality, affordable, preventively oriented dental care.
Jennifer Doggett is a Croakey moderator and the Chair of the Australian Healthcare Reform Alliance.