Mar 25, 2024

Going to the dentist should be bulk-billed through Medicare

Going to the dentist should be bulk-billed through Medicare
Image [Source: Shutterstock.]

In a stark revelation, COTA Australia, the leading advocacy organization for older Australians, has highlighted the alarming trend of seniors delaying or forgoing dental appointments due to financial constraints.

According to recent research released by COTA Australia, almost four in ten Australians aged 55 and above have either postponed or completely avoided visiting the dentist in the past year, primarily citing cost as the barrier.

This figure escalates to a staggering 44% among older Australians on lower incomes, a demographic encompassing many pensioners and individuals residing in aged care facilities.

According to COTA, the research also underscores the need for the implementation of a Seniors Dental Benefits Scheme.

A resounding 73% of Australians express their backing for such a scheme, aiming to furnish older Australians with access to affordable and quality dental care. Additionally, a significant majority, four out of five people, advocate for dental care to be encompassed within Medicare.

Patricia Sparrow, the CEO of COTA Australia, has sounded the alarm, emphasising the critical ramifications of seniors deferring dental care. 

The fact that we’ve got four in every ten older Australians skipping or delaying their dental care should be a real wake up call to our politicians,” Ms Sparrow said.

“These findings back up what we’re hearing directly from older people. It’s not uncommon for us to hear stories of older Australians not getting the urgent dental work they require simply because it’s too expensive.

“Good oral health is vital for maintaining good overall health, and the risks of not getting the care people need can be incredibly serious – even life-threatening in some extreme cases.

“Having good dental care is essential to good health, no matter what your age. But we know that as you get older the risk of broader health implications increase.”

Sparrow contends that the findings should serve as a wake-up call to policymakers, urging swift action to address the burgeoning crisis.

She emphasises the urgent need for the introduction of a Seniors Dental Benefits Scheme, a measure recommended by the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety. This scheme is proposed to cater to all residents of nursing homes, pensioners, or holders of Seniors Healthcare Cards living within the community.

The research findings, commissioned by COTA Australia and conducted by Essential Research, unveil a concerning reality:

  • 37% of Australians aged 55 and above have deferred or completely avoided dental visits due to cost.
  • 44% of older Australians on lower incomes have encountered similar challenges.
  • 57% of financially struggling individuals aged 55 and above have postponed dental appointments due to financial constraints.
  • A significant 73% of Australians endorse the establishment of a Seniors Dental Benefits Scheme.
  • An overwhelming 79% believe dental care should be integrated into Medicare.
  • 89% of Australians in serious financial hardship advocate for Medicare coverage of dental care.

Sparrow underscores the urgency of addressing the plight of those on lower incomes, who face the highest rates of dental neglect. She stresses that millions of Australians, irrespective of age, are jeopardising their health due to financial barriers hindering access to essential dental care.

The call for action from COTA Australia has garnered support from the National Oral Health Alliance, along with prominent stakeholders such as the Australian Dental Association.

The proposed Seniors Dental Benefits Scheme, bulk-billed through Medicare, emerges as a pragmatic solution to alleviate the growing dental health crisis impacting Australians across all age groups.

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  1. Hi

    I read this article on Seniors dental health with great interest.

    I am 59 years of age, a public servant, earning up to $105,000 pa and I find it financially hard, despite mortgage repayments to meet my dental costs.

    I have a private health insurance as well.

    Two years ago, my dentist quoted me $12,000 for my dental costs which included two implants and three new teeth insertions. Last year, he quoted me $16,000.

    I have not been able to attend to my dental needs.

    Two weeks ago, I have asked him to send me a written quote, which he has not provided so far.

    On another note, should the Government include the dental costs in Seniors Benefit scheme, the prices charged by the dentists should be regulated as there is ALAWAYS a trend by the Service providers to increase their prices (same as child care etc).

    As soon as you talk about price regulation, the Dentists/Dental Association may jump the ship .. haha.

    Regards

    Dan

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