10-year plan to expand Medicare funded dental care

21 March 2019
Experts call for a universal dental care scheme for Australia
Two million Australians who needed dental care in the past year either didn’t get it or delayed getting it because it cost too much. The new Grattan Institute Report shows how to fill the dental gap.
model of teeth


The report, Filling the gap: A universal dental care scheme for Australia suggests Australia should introduce a Medicare-style universal insurance scheme for primary dental care, calculating an extra cost of $5.6 billion a year, which could be paid for in part by a rise in the Medicare levy to be be phased in over 10 years.

Professor Heiko Spallek, Head of School and Dean at the University of Sydney School of Dentistry, contributed to the report saying "Reform is needed to ensure more equitable and accessible dental care in Australia" - pointing out that the biggest fear Australians have about visiting a dentist is no longer anxiety, but financial barriers.

Stephen Duckett, Grattan Institute’s Health Program Director, says “There’s no compelling medical, economic, legal or logical reason to treat the mouth so differently from the rest of the body. All Australians should be able to get the care they need, when they need it, without financial barriers."

Ten recommendations for how to achieve universal dental care are outlined in the report, which start with the Commonwealth announcing a 10-year roadmap, including plans to expand the dental health workforce, followed by incremental steps towards a universal scheme.  

Report recommendations

Commit to a universal dental care scheme

  • The Commonwealth Government should declare its intention to introduce a universal primary dental care scheme.
  • The universal scheme should cover primary dental care and emphasise early intervention.
  • Services delivered under the scheme should have no out-of-pocket costs.
  • Publicly-funded dental care should be delivered by a mix of public and private providers.
  • Dental hygienists and oral health therapists should have a greater role.
  • The Commonwealth and states should enhance prevention programs, including water fluoridation.

Steps towards a universal scheme

  • The Commonwealth should assume responsibility for funding public dental care.
  • The Commonwealth should increase total funding for dental care forpeople currently covered by state dental schemes.
  • The Commonwealth should progressively expand the number of peoplecovered by the universal scheme.
  • The Commonwealth should set out a clear roadmap to a universal scheme.
Read Professor Heiko Spallek and Dr Alex Holden's response to the report here - Laying out the roadmap for an Australian universal dental scheme.

The Grattan Institute Report No. 2019-02, was written by Stephen Duckett, Matt Cowgill, and Hal Swerissen. Contributors included Deb Cole, Martin Dooland, Mark Gussy, MattHopcraft, Graeme Liston, Tony McBride, Tan Nguyen, James Robertson, John Rogers, Lesley Russell Wolpe, Heiko Spallek, John Spencer.

Related articles