Health Minister Sussan Ley has announced a backdown on the government’s plan to merge the child dental benefits scheme with an adult scheme. Photo: Louise KennerleyThe federal government’s child dental scheme will survive, but with a $300 hole in it.
The government announced a watered-down scheme on Thursday that will provide only $700 every two years – compared with the previous amount of $1000 every two years – in treatment to children in low-income families.
Last year, the Minister for Health and Aged Care Sussan Ley announced the government would merge the Child Dental Benefits Scheme (CDBS) with an adult scheme.
She had told experts that she believed CDBS was inefficient.
However, in a backdown on Thursday, Ms Ley said the plan would not proceed “because some states did not support” it.
An audit had found the original $2.9 billion scheme had efficiently provided care to about 1 million children at a time when they were most vulnerable.
The means tested scheme provided up to $1000 in dental care every two years to children aged two to 17 whose families were eligible for family benefits.
Ms Ley announced on Thursday that a modified Child Dental Benefits Schedule would continue from January 2017.
Instead of providing $1000 in dental care – bulk billed by private dentists – to each eligible child every two years, it would only provide dental care valued at $700 every two years. The $2.1b Child and Adult Public Dental Scheme now officially kaput— Sean Parnell (@seanparnell) December 15, 2016
Ms Ley said in a statement that the changes to the scheme would “better reflect utilisation patterns”. Most children were claiming well below the $1000 cap.
But the Australian Dental Association (ADA) said $700 was not enough to cover urgent dental care needed by some children.
A review of the scheme found about 20 per cent of children needed more than $700 in dental care every two years.
The ADA applauded the decision to retain the means-tested Child Dental Scheme. Its federal president Dr Hugo Sachs said the ADA was pleased that the Minister announced she will continue the CDBS and “drop her plans to introduce the poorly designed and funded child and adult Public Dental Scheme (caPDS)”.
While the government has criticised the scheme for poor take up, many critics claimed it was because it failed to promote the scheme.
“Any lack of take-up by eligible patients is due more to poor promotion of the scheme that to any major deficiencies in the scheme itself,” said Dr Sachs.
Ms Ley said adults would receive public dental services through a National Partnership Agreement (NPA) of $320 million over this year and the next two years.
But the Federal Opposition and the ADA said this figure was a reduction in the funds allocated to public dental services with the Government committing just $97 million per year toward dental care.
The states opposed the merged scheme – announced in this year’s budget – because it would have resulted in overall funding cuts and long waiting lists at public dental clinics.
Ms Ley had originally proposed in the budget that all Australian children should receive some free treatment. This plan was criticised by the shadow minister for health Catherine King who said it would have forced more than five million children onto long public dental waiting lists.
Ms King said on Thursday that three million children would lose up to $300 in essential dental care because of the decision today to rip hundreds of millions of dollars out of the Children’s Dental Benefits Schedule.
“Labor fought the Government’s plans to abolish the CDBS altogether – and we are pleased that the Government has been forced to back down. However we do not support the reduction to $700 – ripping even more funding out of family health Budgets,” she said.
“No amount of smoke and mirrors will hide the fact that this Government is cutting funding from the dental services provided to children and disadvantaged Australians.”
Ms Ley also announced increased funding of $11 million for the Royal Flying Doctor Service to provide dental outreach services to rural and remote communities. “This significant boost will mean that Australians living in many remote communities, where dental outcomes are often poor, will have access to high-quality, mobile dental care,” she said.
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