With the spotlight on aged care funding ahead of the election and federal budget, The Benevolent Society has launched a campaign for affordable dental care for older Australians.
The not-for-profit is partnering with National Seniors to have dental care included in the universal public health system as part of their Fix Pension Poverty campaign.
The organisations welcomed the announcement this week by MP Rebekha Sharkie who holds the South Australian seat of Mayo, that she will advocate for a $1000 dental voucher for pensioners as part of her 2019 Federal Election campaign.
“Regardless of which party wins Government, I will be lobbying for people on the aged pension to be able to claim up to $1000 for dental work in any two-year period,” said Ms Sharkie, who is a member of the former Nick Xenophon Team Party, Centre Alliance.
“I’ve had the costings done by the Parliamentary Budget Office (PBO) and I know it will cost nearly $1.57 billion over the forward estimates to the 2021-2022 budget.”
“But given the Australian Dental Association estimates the medical complications that result from poor oral health among older Australians costs the nation a billion dollars a year, I believe providing a dental voucher is a sensible, preventative spend and sound public policy.”
“I have the oldest electorate in South Australia and the high cost of dental care is a concern often raised with my office and, more recently, in the Community Forums I am currently hosting across the electorate.
“I had one older gentleman come to see me in some distress because he was using an adhesive he was not supposed to be using in order to keep his broken dentures intact.
“He was suffering from mouth ulcers and his diet, and his general health, were deteriorating as a result.
“Surely we can do better for our older Australians?”
Under the plan, anyone on a full aged pension would be eligible to claim up to $1000 for dental work in any two-year period.
Orthodontic and cosmetic work and any dental work done in hospitals would be excluded.
“Medical professionals and the aged care sector are well aware of the flow-on effects of poor oral health, particularly for those older Australians who move into residential aged care, are extremely frail and/or suffer from dementia,” Ms Sharkie said.
“Tooth decay, oral cancer and periodontal disease are linked to other chronic health conditions such as cardiovascular, cerebrovascular and respiratory diseases.
“Aged care residents with periodontal disease have a higher incidence of developing diabetes and are more at risk of contracting pneumonia and bacterial infections of the blood.
“If we consider it a worthwhile spend to invest in the oral health of our children through a means-tested childhood dental scheme, then we should do the same for our aged pensioners.”
Dr Kirsty Nowlan – Executive Director of Strategy, Engagement, Research and Advocacy for The Benevolent Society, said only 16 per cent of of age pension recipients who are renting – the biggest indicator of poverty amongst older Australians – with private health cover.
“Including dental care in our universal public health system is the standard we should be heading towards. In the meantime, we need to deal with the dental cost crisis for older Australians by looking at this plan from Rebekha Sharkie.”
“There’s an election coming up, and there’s been a lot of talk from the major parties about the financial wellbeing of older Australians. We’re calling on all parties and candidates to put their money where their mouth is and commit to affordable basic dental services for older Australians.”
Other areas of concern the Fix Pension Poverty campaign is advocating for include:
- Increasing Rent Assistance for people on the Age Pension who are struggling to afford private rents
- Addressing out of pocket health costs by providing affordable dental care for people receiving the Age Pension
- Keeping people on the Age Pension connected to communications as more essential services are transferred online and the National Broadband Network increases costs
- Setting the rate of the Age Pension independently and based on evidence, rather than the politicking of the day