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Access to dental care in Australia: a bit more

Partner Institute: 
Centre for Health, Economics Research and Evaluation (CHERE), University of Technology, Sydney
Survey no: 
Gallego, Gisselle
Health Policy Issues: 
Finanzierung, Leistungskatalog, Zugang
Reform formerly reported in: 
Access to dental care in Australia
Current Process Stages
Idee Pilotprojekt Strategiepapier Gesetzgebung Umsetzung Evaluation Veränderung/Richtungswechsel
Implemented in this survey? nein nein nein ja nein nein nein


In 2004, the Australian Commonwealth Government announced for the first time that Medicare would cover dental procedures. Subsidies for private dental care and Medicare rebates for dental services for people with a chronic condition were introduced in 2004 (See Survey No.5 2005). However data showed that the level of referrals under this plan and uptake of this measure fell short of government expectations.

Neue Entwicklungen

In March 2004 the government introduced Medicare rebates for dental services for patients whose dental problems were "significantly exacerbating" an existing chronic condition (e.g. heart disease, diabetes or cancer). This meant that patients could be referred by a general practitioner (GP) to a dentist for an assessment and two other services within a 12-month period. However data showed that the level of referrals under this plan and uptake of this measure fell short of government expectations (Marshall and Spencer, 2006). As a result an increase in the extent of Medicare benefits for dental services for patients with chronic conditions was announced in the 2007-08 Budget. It initially expanded funding of A$377.6 million over four years and proposed that benefits be capped at A$2000 per calendar year. However only three months after the initial announcement was made further changes were introduced. The new four year scheme which is scheduled to start on the 1st November 2007, subject to the passage of legislation, includes:

  • Expansion of dental items to include diagnostic services         
  • Extended eligibility to residents of aged-care facilities if managed by a general practitioner under a multidisciplinary care plan. 
  • Up to A$4,250 worth of Medicare-funded dental treatment over two consecutive calendar years (including benefits under the Medicare Safety Net)        
  • Medicare benefits to be payable for dental prostheses, including dentures
  • AU$384 million over four years


Characteristics of this policy

Innovationsgrad traditionell traditionell innovativ
Kontroversität unumstritten unumstritten kontrovers
Strukturelle Wirkung marginal marginal fundamental
Medienpräsenz sehr gering sehr gering sehr hoch
Übertragbarkeit sehr systemabhängig sehr systemabhängig systemneutral
current current   previous previous

Purpose and process analysis

Current Process Stages

Idee Pilotprojekt Strategiepapier Gesetzgebung Umsetzung Evaluation Veränderung/Richtungswechsel
Implemented in this survey? nein nein nein ja nein nein nein

Initiators of idea/main actors

  • Leistungserbringer
  • Wissenschaft
  • Medien

Stakeholder positions

The Australian Medical Association (AMA) expressed "its desire that further funding initiatives be rolled out to broaden access to dental care beyond those with chronic conditions and complex care needs".

The Australian Dental Association (ADA) and the Oral Health Alliance (a broad grouping of organisations concerned about the adequacy of oral health services in Australia) were "pleased" with the announcement. However "the provision of financial assistance for dental care to those that can afford such treatment" is in the ADA's view an inappropriate use of the limited funds on offer. The ADA is also concerned about the schedule fee for dentists. According to some ADA representatives the fee might preclude some dentist from adopting the Scheme. The CEO of ADA argues that low-income Australians are victims of a struggle between the state and federal government as to who should pay for public dental health programs.

Actors and positions

Description of actors and their positions
Providers of public dental servicessehr unterstützendunterstützend stark dagegen
Scientific Communitysehr unterstützendunterstützend stark dagegen
Mediasehr unterstützendunterstützend stark dagegen
current current   previous previous

Actors and influence

Description of actors and their influence

Providers of public dental servicessehr großgering kein
Scientific Communitysehr großneutral kein
Mediasehr großneutral kein
current current   previous previous
Providers of public dental servicesScientific Community, Media

Positions and Influences at a glance

Graphical actors vs. influence map representing the above actors vs. influences table.

Adoption and implementation


Monitoring and evaluation

No formal evaluation of the policy has been announced. However one of the recommendations of the Parliament enquiry was that "early monitoring and evaluation of the scheme be undertaken to ascertain who is accessing the rebates and for what conditions, and ascertain if the criterion that a 'patient's oral health must be impacting on, or likely to impact on, their general health' is well understood and consistently applied. Monitoring and evaluation should cover both the immediate recipients of Medicare dental services and the broader population level" (Biggs, 2007).

Expected outcome

According to the Minister for Health Tony Abbott the expanded measure would assist up to 200 000 patients with chronic conditions to access dental services in the private sector over the first four years of the measure (Biggs, 2007). The government expects that the new provisions will also give more flexibility for patients to receive dental treatment when required.   

The issues that acted as barriers to referral for dental care (and which were possibly responsible for the low uptake of the initial measure) are not addressed by this new initiative. The time and costs involved might act as barriers to doctors, patients and dentist. This may include but are not limited to

  1. administrative requirements faced by GPs, 
  2. dentists' unfamiliarity with the Medicare remuneration system and 
  3. the level of remuneration offered.  

The current proposed changes do not seem to provide a simple or effective pathway for dental referral and treatment. Patients might incur out of pocket expenses which could act as a disincentive to those considering using the scheme.

Impact of this policy

Qualität kaum Einfluss kaum Einfluss starker Einfluss
Gerechtigkeit System weniger gerecht neutral System gerechter
Kosteneffizienz sehr gering sehr gering sehr hoch
current current   previous previous


Sources of Information

1.  Marshall RI, Spencer AJ. "Accessing oral health care in Australia." Medical Journal of Australia. 2006;185(2):59-60.  

2. Biggs A. Health Insurance Amendment (Medical Dental Services) Bill 2007. Parliamentary Library 2007;35(2007-08).  

3. Spencer A. What options do we have for organising, providing and funding better public dental care? Commissioned Paper Series 2001/02. Sydney, NSW: Australian Health Policy Institute at the University of Sydney; 2001.

4.  AIHW Dental Statistics and Research Unit. Australia's dental generations: the National Survey of Adult Oral Health 2004-06. Canberra: Australian Institute of Health and Welfare; 2007.

Reform formerly reported in

Access to dental care in Australia
Process Stages: Evaluation

Author/s and/or contributors to this survey

Gallego, Gisselle

Empfohlene Zitierweise für diesen Online-Artikel:

Gallego, Gisselle. "Access to dental care in Australia: a bit more". Health Policy Monitor, October 2007. Available at