There was nothing to celebrate about Budget 2015, says the Australian Dental Association: instead, it left a bad taste in the mouth for consumers and dentists alike.
Many consumers relying on public dental services can look forward to status quo on waiting times and access difficulties, the ADA says.
“The so called funding for public dental services under the National Partnerships Agreement is being sold as an investment when in reality it is a reduction in the funds that were promised last year by the amount of $45 million,” it says.
“The proposed $200 million will now cover both the Child Dental Benefits Schedule and funding for dental services.
“Nor is there any certainty of the funding beyond 2015-16 as future funding is subject to an as yet unidentified reform of the dental system and the agreement of the states and territories to that reform.”
The heavily supported Child Dental Benefits Schedule was another victim of the Budget savings, the ADA says. Despite rebate levels already being well below the mean fee charged by dentists, there will be no increase in the rebate levels for the next four years.
ADA Federal President Dr Rick Olive AM says he is disappointed that the government would once again leverage the generosity of dentists to cross subsidise the government spending on dental health.
“Most of the claims made under the Child Dental Benefits Schedule are bulk-billed by dentists,” he says.
“By bulk-billing dentists are providing these services at or below cost because they know that many of the families eligible for services under the CDBS find it difficult to find the extra money required for regular dental check-ups normally.
“There is only so much subsidisation that dentists can accommodate and still provide affordable services to eligible populations. The pause in indexation of rebates for the CDBS comes on the back of a pause in indexation of rebates for veterans. Which group should dentists now say no to?”
The dental workforce also suffered with the cancellation of the funding for the Voluntary Dental Graduate Year Program and the Oral Health Therapist Graduate Year Program after the current cohort.
“The Voluntary Dental Graduate Year Program subsidised positions for 50 newly graduated dentists annually and in doing so provided the public sector with increased numbers of dentists to provide services under the public dental system and in regional areas,” says Dr Olive.
“Cancellation of the program will make it even more difficult for dentists to find jobs and deliver services in an environment where too many dentists are entering the workforce.”
To cap off the hits, the Dental Relocation and Infrastructure Support Scheme also took a blow, the extent of which is still to be determined as details available are not yet forthcoming.
“All in all an uninspiring Budget for dental care in Australia,” Dr Olive says.