MEDIA RELEASE: Labor’s dental plan will provide welcome and overdue relief for older Australians missing out on vital treatment because of cost

Australia’s leading seniors advocacy body, COTA Australia, today welcomed Labor’s commitment to give lower income older Australians access to $1,000 worth of free dental heath care every 2 years.

The $2.4 billon Pensioner Dental Plan announced today will provide $1,000 worth of dental care every 2 years through Medicare to older Australians who receive an Age Pension or hold a Commonwealth Seniors Health Card.

COTA Chief Executive, Ian Yates, said COTA has long lobbied all parties for better access to oral and dental health services as a critical gap in health care for older Australians who are already struggling with the cost of living and healthcare costs.

Mr Yates called on the Coalition to match or better the Labor plan, noting that the Australian Greens have already announced a plan for universal dental coverage care earlier in the election. 

COTA’s State of the (Older) Nation Report in late 2018 found that Dental Services are the most difficult services for older Australians to access, given many don’t have private health insurance, largely because they can’t afford it. The top reason older Australians gave for a poor quality of life rating was health.

“Good oral health is particularly critical for older people who are particularly susceptible to chronic diseases such as dental decay, gum disease and oral cancer,” Mr Yates said.

“More than 50 percent of Australians older than 65 years suffer from gum disease or periodontitis. We all know how painful a toothache can be, and for older people who often can’t afford proper care or find it difficult to access, poor oral health has much broader impacts on their physical and mental well being.

“Poor oral health can cause embarrassment and social isolation for many older Australians. Poor dental health also increases the risk of diabetes, heart disease and chronic malnutrition in older people.

“Investing in proper oral and dental care for older Australians is not only an investment in the health and wellbeing of older Australians, it is an important preventative health measure that will alleviate the longer-term pressure on our broader health system.”

Under the plan announced today by Labor, Medicare will cover a wide range of dental services, including check ups, x-rays, periodontal treatment and dentures – within the $1,000 cap.

Mr Yates said “I am pleased Labor has promised to work with dentists and experts to roll out the plan and ensure standard costs for older Australians accessing the scheme, and ensure services meet quality and safety standards. COTA looks forward to helping design this scheme”. 

“We welcome Labor’s commitment to work with states and territories to boost access to public dental services and ensure consistent bulk billing payments, oral health measures and data sharing across Australia. We are also very pleased that Aboriginal Medical services will have access to the scheme.

“Adequate oral and dental health is a huge gap in our health care system for older Australians, with devastating consequences for those who aren’t getting the treatment they need because they can’t afford it,” Mr Yates said.

“This is potentially a life changing announcement for many older Australians – a good announcement by Labor – and I now look forward to similar commitments from the Government before the election.”