Private Healthcare Australia has raised concerns over the funding sustainability of Labor's Pensioner Dental Plan.
Under the $2.4 billion plan announced Sunday, pensioners would receive $1,000 worth of free dental care over a two-year period.
According to Private Healthcare Australia chief executive Dr Rachel David, “The Pensioner Dental Plan alone isn’t enough to provide free dental care for Australian pensioners. The cost of one dental implant can be five times that of what the Plan is offering over a two-year period. This proposal has the potential for considerable cost blow outs year after year.”
Dr David said the increasing role of private health insurers in the provision of dental care means any "serious" plan must include collaboration with the sector.
Private health insurers paid $2.77 billion in dental benefits in 2018, up 4.5 per cent from the year before, and up from $1.6 billion in 2010.
“Health funds have the experience and infrastructure in place to provide a more affordable and accessible dental health system and Private Healthcare Australia has met with both the Government and Opposition to express a willingness to work towards this goal," said Dr David.
“Increasingly, health funds are contracting with dentists and vertically integrating with dental practices, thereby consolidating and creating economies of scale. This is driven largely by a need to standardise quality, increase transparency on services provided, and reduce out-of-pocket costs for consumers."
Labor's plan targets senior Australians. However, Dr David said 77 per cent of people aged over 65 are already covered by private health insurance, with one-in-two Australians already claiming for dental services through a health fund.
“In addition, 90 per cent of dental services provided to low and middle- income earners get some level of reimbursement from a health fund and 60 per cent of dental treatments/services in hospitals are also funded by health funds. In the year ending September 2018, private health insurance has funded almost 42 million dental services,” she said.
Dr David said reform of the dental health sector should be the priority of policy-makers, with a focus on access, quality, affordability and tackling waste.
"This will only be achieved by working cooperatively with health funds who have the experience and infrastructure to deliver a better dental health system,” added Dr David.