Why on earth isn’t dental covered by my Home Care Package?

Article published 27 June 2022

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YOU’VE made it through the application process for a Commonwealth Home Care Package.

You’ve done the paperwork, the assessment, the meeting.

You’ve waited at least 3 to 9 months and finally you’ve received some help.

With so many services covered, from nursing, to transport, to physiotherapy, now you can finally spend this money on the services that will help you the most.

Or maybe not.

Helen Knight, a reader from Wherrol Flat in the hinterland of the NSW Mid-North Coast, went through just that experience. She writes:

I am the fortunate recipient of a Home Care Package.  It enables me to have my toenails cut by a professional podiatrist and to have a hairdresser visit my home if I am disabled.  I can live without both of these.  However, I do have serious dental problems on which I am not allowed to spend a single cent from my package.

Helen Knight, despite having funds available in her Home Care Package, cannot use that money for dental care.

According to the MyAgedCare website, any services you buy with your Home Care Package must be linked to your care needs, improve your health and wellbeing, and be necessary to allow you to keep living independently.

Dental care ticks all of these boxes, so why can’t it be included?

Because the policy is that Home Care Package funds can’t be used for services that are funded, or jointly funded, by the Australian Government.

The problem is that public dental programs throughout Australia are grossly underfunded.

Of the estimated $9.5 billion spent on dental services in Australia in 2019-2020, the Australian Government only contributed $1.2 billion. And of this $1.2 billion, about half of it was spent on private health insurance rebates, not on public dental health programs.

If Helen Knight wants to access the NSW public dental health program, this is what she will contend with.

The latest, published wait list for NSW public dental services shows that as of 1 January 2022 there were 31,322 people waiting to get in for a first assessment and 94,051 people waiting for treatment of diagnosed conditions. That’s more than 125,000 people.

Booking in for a general check-up while free from oral health concerns means waiting for a maximum of two years, according to the NSW Health policy directive Priority Oral Health Program (POHP) and Waiting List Management. Those wanting a check-up because they have a concern (loose filling, cavity etc) wait for up to a year. That’s the policy, but anecdotes suggest it is often longer.

If Helen wants someone to come and dress her hair, not a problem. Obviously, there’s something very wrong when a hair-do trumps a filling.

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