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Australian Greens unveil plans for universal dental policy

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The Australian Greens political party has announced that it will seek to expand Medicare to include universal free dental coverage if it holds the balance of power after next month's federal election. (Image: Inside Creative House/Shutterstock)

CANBERRA, Australia: Though Australia’s government-funded universal healthcare system, Medicare, covers the cost of many public health services, dentistry is, by and large, excluded from this. Ahead of the country’s upcoming federal election on 21 May, the Greens political party has announced a swathe of policies—chief among them the expansion of Medicare to include universal free dental coverage.

On 13 April, Greens party leader and federal member of parliament for Melbourne Adam Bandt explained that the policy, which would cost an estimated A$77.6 billion (€53 billion) over the next decade, would be funded by a proposed 6% additional tax on billionaires in addition to a super profits tax on corporations. According to the party’s website, the policy would ensure that routine and therapeutic dental services, including regular check-up and dental cleaning, crowns, oral surgery, and orthodontic, periodontic and prosthodontic treatment, are free for all individuals who are eligible for Medicare. In addition, the Greens have pledged that they will provide fee-free university dentistry courses to meet the expected surge in demand for members of the dental profession.

Though the Greens are not expected to challenge Australia’s two major parties for a parliamentary majority at the election, there is a chance that the party could hold the balance of power if neither the Coalition nor the Labor party is able to form a majority government. This last occurred in Australia in 2010 and, as Bandt noted in his speech, saw the Greens help secure free dental care for children and low-income earners as part of a deal made during the government’s formation.

ADA asks parties to address oral healthcare inequalities

Bandt’s announcement came a week after the Australian Dental Association (ADA) called for the country’s major political parties to make dentistry a focal point of their election campaigns. In a press release, the ADA highlighted the oral health burden carried by the elderly and disadvantaged groups, including those of an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander background, calling on the parties to address these disparities and prioritise their oral healthcare.

As Dental Tribune International detailed in 2020, only 53% of the Australian population possess health insurance that includes dental coverage, forcing many patients to bear the burden of dental expenses directly. Furthermore, a 2020 report from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare found that even patients with private health insurance that covers dental treatment can still be subject to considerable and varying out-of-pocket costs. Whereas the median out-of-pocket cost for a complete crown was found to be A$786 (€537) with private health insurance, some patients paid as little as A$26 (€17.76), while others were charged as much as A$1,989 (€1,359).

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