Calls for pensioner dental vouchers to help older Aussies with medical costs

An Australian charity is calling on the government to better support older Aussies and their dental health by addressing financial hardships faced by many across the country who are relying on the Age Pension.

The Benevolent Society has thrown its support behind local politician and federal member for Mayo, Rebekha Sharkie, as she kicks off a campaign to assist those in need – by lobbying for the creation of a dental voucher which would allow pensioners to claim up to $1000 for dental work in any two-year period.

The idea has sparked the attention of the charity, which is working to alleviate the struggles faced by older Aussies – with hopes the plan would help pensioners stay fit and healthy.

“We’re calling on all parties and candidates to put their money where their mouth is and commit to affordable basic dental services for older Australians,” Benevolent Society’s Dr Kirsty Nowlan explained to Starts at 60.

“Australians pay 57 per cent of the cost of dental care out of their own pockets, compared to 17.3 per cent for all health services. It makes no sense that we have Medicare for other health services, but have to rely on increasingly expensive private health insurance for dental cover.”

With the rising cost of living affecting pensioners in more ways than one, Nowlan claimed Sharkie’s idea would be the best step forward for Australia. She explained including dental care in the universal public health system is the standard the country should be heading towards and that plans such as Sharkie’s will make a great difference.

“We need to deal with the dental cost crisis for older Australians by looking at this plan from Rebekha Sharkie,” Nowlan added. “There’s a Dental Benefit Schedule for children, and this plan provides similar levels of assistance for people on the Age Pension.”

In the campaign, which was launched on Tuesday, Sharkie claimed while the vouchers would cost nearly $1.57 billion over the forward estimates to the 2021-2022 budget, they are still crucial to helping Australians. She said given the staggering amount of Aussies with poor oral health, the voucher is a “sensible” and “preventative spend”.

“Medical professionals and the aged care sector are well aware of the flow-on effects of poor oral health, particularly for those older Australians who move into residential aged care, are extremely frail and/or suffer from dementia,” Sharkie explained.

“If we consider it a worthwhile spend to invest in the oral health of our children through a means-tested childhood dental scheme, then we should do the same for our aged pensioners.”

While dental care is at the top of the list for the Benevolent Society, the charity’s advocacy campaigner Joel Pringle told Starts at 60 there are more issues that need to be addressed by the government when it comes to older Aussies.

Through the Fix Pension campaign, which is a partnership with National Seniors, Pringle said they are also calling for an increase in rent assistance for those on the Age Pension and most especially assistance with the staggering National Broadband Network costs.

“One of the biggest costs is in communication and signing up for NBN is quite costly for pensioners,” he explained. “People are already making decisions to cut off their hot water to get by and data packages are a great expense.”

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