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Strength to care for people and their dental needs

Hon Jim Anderton

Progressive Party leader

9 October 2008 Media Advisory

Strength to care for people and their dental needs

Affordable dental care needs to be brought into the public health system, the way doctors' visits and prescriptions have, Progressive Party leader Jim Anderton said today.

Jim Anderton launched the Progressive Party's affordable dental care policy in Auckland this morning.

He pledged that the Progressive Party would put access to dental care as a crucial part of its support for a Labour-led Government.

"I'm proud to be part of a Government that has rolled out cheaper primary healthcare for New Zealanders, starting with our most vulnerable, and this affordable dental care policy is part of that.

"We would like to see a policy phased in over the next five years - similar to the roll-out of cheaper doctors' visits. Those population groups in greatest need would get assistance first."

Jim Anderton said people found it hard to deal with the cost of dental care, particularly those on low or fixed incomes.

"The checkups alone can be $180. If you need any work on top of that, you're looking at $400, maybe even thousands of dollars more – how do you afford that when you don't have much income?"

He said neglected teeth and gums were a sleeping problem for New Zealand's healthcare system, and it needed to be addressed.

"I've been told that people are queuing up from 5am for free basic dental care at hospitals, and even then, they find it hard to get very serious dental problems looked after."

Jim Anderton said the Progressive Party would work with industry and researchers to develop the mechanism that will best improve access to dental care.

The objectives of the funding mechanism will be:
•Cheaper access for patients;
•Minimising the expense to taxpayers;
•Ensuring dental care professionals (from dental therapists and dentists, to
surgeons and orthodontists) have incentives to enter and stay in the
profession, providing the care needed.

Jim Anderton said the Progressive Party's preferred option would be a straight subsidy for a visit.

"This would work in a similar way to subsidised doctors’ visits. Some doctors provide free, or nearly free, consultations paid for by the subsidy from the government. Other doctors charge a top-up fee.

"At first, subsidy levels could increase according to need, so that full subsidies were made available to those least able to afford care they need. As the scheme was rolled out, the level of subsidy would increase for others, so that the cost of dental care began to come down for everyone."

He said there were other options, such as: the increased use of dental therapists; community dental facilities, funded by government, supervised by professionals,; and potentially an insurance scheme.

One characteristic of dental care is that your need tends to vary at different times in your life. Young people, and older people tend to have higher demand than working age people.

The actuarial predictability of people’s demand for dental care lends itself to an insurance scheme. New Zealanders could pay in, with the government providing subsidies according to your ability to pay, and the insurance provider setting rules about eligibility and coverage. ACC is already well equipped to do this.

Policy document available at


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