Red News Readers,
What does it take to get governments moving on the need for a national dental scheme? The situation is a scandal and has been for some time ever since the Howard Government abolished the Commonwealth Dental Scheme. I am aware of people living with severe dental pain for weeks; people who need emergency care and cannot afford it so turn up at hospital emergency departments begging for help; people living on soft food and fluids for months and years, losing weight and becoming malnourished. We are a wealthy country. This should not be happening in this country. And as for the dental profession, where is your compassion?
National dental scheme urged for needy
Mark Metherell, smh
February 14, 2009
THE ailing state of public dental care has prompted a call from the Government's health reform experts for a national scheme to provide care to needy patients with bad teeth.
The Australian Health and Hospitals Reform Commission will release an interim report on Monday which will propose a significant rethink of health policies in areas such as public hospitals, indigenous health and spreading Medicare payments beyond doctors to other professionals.
The report is understood to have targeted the widespread deterioration in dental health as a priority for revamped federal intervention. It is estimated 650,000 people who cannot afford dental care are in need of dental treatment.
The report proposes novel approaches, including the expanded use of new dental graduates to increase publicly financed services that have failed to meet current demands from patients in most states including NSW.
The proposal comes as the Rudd Government baulks at a Commonwealth dental scheme that it claims would provide 1 million services over three years to needy patients.
The Health Minister, Nicola Roxon, has refused to implement the scheme pledged before the election until opposition parties agree to legislation axing the previous government's Medicare dental scheme for patients with chronic medical conditions.
The Government has introduced a dental scheme for teenagers, but dentist organisations say both that scheme and the proposed Commonwealth scheme are poorly targeted and rely on under-resourced public dental services.
An expert report to the reform commission last year identified "two worlds" in dentistry: the 39 per cent of adults who saw dentists regularly and the 61 per cent who did not, and who had poorer oral health and many times the rate of tooth extractions - a precursor of poorer quality of life.
The report by Adelaide University population dental health experts, Professor John Spencer and Dr Jane Harford, also said primary school children's oral health "has plateaued and then deteriorated by around 20 per cent across the last 8-10 years".
The commission's interim report is expected to float a range of proposals to upgrade the health system in preparation for its final report to the Government in June. It is expected to raise the option of a federal takeover of public hospitals. The Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, will decide on this issue by the middle of the year.
The commission has considered a vast range of proposals which were presented to it in more than 500 submissions.
In its 400-page report, the commission is likely to put more pressure on the Government in sensitive areas including performance payments for doctors and dealing with inequities in the health system that tend to deliver more publicly subsidised services to well-off people living in well-served areas.
However, the Government has ordered the commission to stay away from a subject which has been much criticised in Labor ranks - the $4 billion private health insurance subsidy.