Australian Dental Association President, Dr Shane Fryer, has refuted Federal Opposition Leader Tony Abbott's costings for a Medicare funded oral health scheme, saying they are "way off target".
Mr Abbott floated as an aspirational goal of his party if returned to Government of introducing a Medicare-funded scheme providing universal, non-means tested dental care once the budget returns to surplus. The Opposition has estimated the cost of doing so will be around $4 billion.
Dr Fryer said in an article published in The Australian Financial Review today that Mr Abbott was "not within coo-ee on the costing" with the real cost being closer to $13 billion.
"To achieve that budget, the suite of dental services provided will be too limited to be of benefit to the disadvantaged who are not getting the treatment they need now," Dr Fryer said.
A spokesman from Mr Abbott's office said the $4 billion costing was based on the estimate publicly provided by the chairman of the Association for the Promotion of Oral Health, Hans Zoellner.
The article stated that independent costings for a universal dental scheme similar to Medicare range from $7 billion to $11 billion. In a report in 2008, the National Health and Hospitals Reform Commission put the cost of a social insurance scheme for dental care at $7 billion annually, in figures audited by PricewaterhouseCoopers.
Dr Fryer said the ADA's $13 billion estimated annual cost for a universal scheme was based on extrapolating over the eligible population the average patient cost under the chronic disease dental scheme, for which the average reimbursement per patient is $2400. "If we are going to have a completely universal scheme it's a fiscal black hole if we are to deliver the appropriate quality treatment," he said. "If you are extrapolating the existing figures from the chronic disease dental scheme this $4 billion figure is just way off target."
The ADA wants the government to consider a targeted, means-tested scheme with funding directed to the 35 per cent of the population it believes are not getting adequate care. About 7.5 million Australians say they delay or go without treatment for oral problems often for financial reasons or lack of access, the ADA says.