Major Medicare Overhaul Proposed with Potential $12 Billion Annual Taxpayer Price Tag

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An innovative proposal has been made to expand Medicare by $12 billion year, thereby offering free dental treatment to all Australians. 

The proposal, currently under consideration by the federal government, is the result of a comprehensive senate inquiry into Australia’s dental care system. Health Minister Mark Butler has been entrusted with responding to the inquiry when Parliament reconvenes.

Presently, Australians must privately finance dental visits and treatments, excluding children under 17 meeting eligibility criteria and certain concession cardholders. However, a 2023 report from the Grattan Institute reveals that 32% of patients in need of dental care skip treatment, with cost cited as the primary deterrent for half of them.

The report suggests incorporating dental care into the National Health Reform Agreement, set to be updated the following year, as a means of negotiating a new scheme between federal and state governments. 

The Parliamentary Budget Office, as part of a Greens-led inquiry with representation from Labor and the Coalition, has explored several options for expanding Medicare to include dental coverage.

Proposed Medicare Expansion Rationale

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An innovative proposal has been made to expand Medicare by $12 billion year, thereby offering free dental treatment to all Australians.

Among the proposed options are a universal approach covering all Medicare cardholders, costing $8.3 billion capped or $11.6 billion uncapped over five years. 

Alternatively, a means-tested option would provide rebates for those on income support and pensioners, at a cost of $3 billion capped or $4 billion uncapped. A third option targets full coverage for individuals aged over 65, with costs estimated at $1.7 billion capped or $2 billion uncapped. 

Lastly, a fourth option, applicable to all Medicare cardholders, would cover preventative measures like check-ups and diagnostic tests, costing $2.7 billion capped or $3.8 billion uncapped.

To put this in perspective, Medicare’s government budget for the last financial year was $31 billion, while the National Disability Insurance Scheme incurred a cost of $37 billion. Dental treatments were originally intended to be covered when Medicare was introduced in the 1970s but were excluded due to budget constraints.

Health directory Cleanbill estimates that, on average, Australians paid $230 for a standard dentist visit last year. The proposed expansion aims to alleviate financial burdens and ensure equitable access to essential dental care services for all Australians.

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