Cutting dental advances

I’ve written before about the tooth-shaped gap in our health care system. It’s a terrible oversight, and one that, it turns out, has just got a whole lot worse.

The way poorer people tend to cobble together dental care is a mixture of whatever they can spare and the $300 emergency dental grant available once a year. Unfortunately, often this is just not enough for even basic emergency dental care when things have become serious. One of the gap-fillers available to beneficiaries is to get an advance on the benefit from WINZ.

This is problematic in that it is an advance, so they will have to pay it back out of their already inadequate benefit. That’s an unreasonable thing to ask beneficiaries to do. The payment for dental assistance has not changed in at least seven years, and I suspect that it may well have been set at the same level for decades. Dental costs, like all other costs in this world, have been climbing steadily over those decades, and $300 won’t cover all that much any more. A 2013 Consumer survey revealed that it costs, on average, $140 for a single simple filling. By the time you qualify for a dental grant, you’re likely to need a lot more than just a filling. Just pull the thing out and save the trouble? Assuming that there is only one tooth involved, extraction can cost up to $300. Add on consultation and x-ray fees, and whoops, there we are over the $300 mark by quite a bit.

Now, things are getting worse for beneficiaries. They aren’t touching the dental grant (yet. Who knows with governments?), but the advance on benefits is now being cracked down on. In the 2010/11 financial year, WINZ loaned $9,398,451 to beneficiaries for emergency dental care. In the last year, they loaned $45,100. Look at those numbers for a moment.

There are still ten million-odd dollars of dental work that needs doing (probably a lot more, but at least that ten million). If WINZ are only loaning out $45k in a year, what is happening to all the other people that have been eligible for dental loans in the past? It has been suggested that people are making time-payment arrangements with their dentists, and I don’t doubt that some do. I suspect, however, that there are more people than ever going without the dental treatment they need.

I also learned that emergency hospital dental care commonly has a limit – they are likely to only extract one tooth. I guess it’s a case of choosing the one that hurts the most. That sounds so cynical, and I am sure that there are hospital dentists that bend the rules for people who are suffering whenever they can get away with it, but the reality will be just that brutal.

So our government has, yet again, pulled the rug out from under the poor. Why do they keep doing this? Saving money, blah blah surplus blah. I would hate to be a policy maker at the Ministries of Health and Social Development. To have to balance the wellbeing of their fellow man against budgets that just don’t match the need out there must be hard.


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