Government subsidies for dental care in Australia

OBJECTIVES: To evaluate the impact of recent changes in public subsidies for oral health care in Australia, and to propose more effective and equitable uses of Commonwealth Government subsidies.

METHODS: Review of literature and Australian Research Centre for Population Oral Health information.

RESULTS: Commonwealth subsidies for oral health care services in Australia have been moved from public dental services to private dental health insurance. This has resulted in a redistribution of funds from people on low incomes with poor oral health, to people on middle to high incomes with relatively better oral health.

CONCLUSIONS: Public funding for dental care in Australia favours the financially and orally better off at the expense of disadvantaged and orally unhealthy Australians. Current approaches to public funding for oral health services in Australia are unlikely to result in a substantial improvement in oral health.

IMPLICATIONS: Maximum gains in oral health are likely to be achieved by a reorientation of Commonwealth subsidies towards preventive and basic treatment services. This reorientation needs to occur within a primary health care framework. Whereas the Commonwealth plays a national leadership role in the provision of general health services, this is not apparent in relation to oral health. This lack of leadership leaves many vulnerable Australians without basic preventive services and at high risk of losing teeth that might otherwise have been preserved. Channelling the funding now used to subsidise private dental services for the well off and dentally healthy to community-wide and targeted preventive services for vulnerable and low-income Australians would have a larger impact on oral health and represent a more equitable use of these funds.

Harford J, Spencer AJ.

Aust N Z J Public Health. 2004 Aug;28(4):363-8.

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