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Dental blamed for draining super accounts

There are calls for the rules to be tightened as superannuation accounts are depleted.

NSA campaign for better private health insurance

National Seniors says the Productivity Commission should review the private health insurance system, with an emphasis on identifying ways to improve its value proposition to policy holders in general and older policy holders in particular.

Private health insurance holders continue to face a never-ending cycle of premium increases, product limitations and soaring out-of-pocket costs. 

The review should lead to a redesign of the private health care system, making it fit-for-purpose for this day and age, including reforms to minimise premiums and out-of-pocket costs. 

NSA also calls for the creation of a targeted Seniors Dental Benefits Scheme, similar to the Child Dental Benefit Scheme to provide seniors with assistance to meet dental costs. 

Older people are more likely to have poor oral health, especially the poor and those in residential aged care. 

Poor dental care can affect a person’s ability to speak, eat, and socialise and can lead to ill health and even death.  

The Seniors Dental Benefit Scheme would provide $500 per year towards oral health treatment for poorer old people and aged care residents before being expanded to other groups. 

More information about these and other initiatives can be found in our 2024 Federal Budget submission

Thousands of Australians are depleting their superannuation savings to pay for dental work – sparking calls for early super access to be tightened or risk escalating dental costs for all consumers. 

In 2022-23, more than $313 million was removed from superannuation to pay for dental care – up from $108.2 million just two years earlier. 

Some 13,540 Australians were permitted to do so: a 372% increase from $66.4 million five years ago. The average amount approved per person was $23,146. 

The private health insurance sector and dentists claim the early access provisions are being misused, with consequences for superannuants and dental and medical consumers. 

Australian Dental Association president, Dr Scott Davis, says the compassionate scheme should not be used for superficial purposes. Instead, it should be used for people suffering acute or chronic pain, living with a disability or who have problems with eating.

"That doesn’t mean you get veneers on your front teeth, you straighten your teeth, you get fancy dental treatment; you just get basic care, really, through this scheme,” he said. 

Private health insurance peak body, Private Healthcare Australia, says people should only be allowed to access their super early for terminal and life-threatening medical conditions, not dentistry. 

It suggests there’s a link between the early access surge and rising out-of- pocket fees for dentistry, adding to cost of living pressures and questionable practices by some dentists. 

The Dental Board of Australia has urged dentists to abide by their code of conduct, which bars them from advising patients to access their super to pay for treatment. 

National Seniors urges action

National Seniors Australia believes this issue points to broader systemic problems in the private health insurance system and boosts our campaign to improve private health insurance for all Australians. 

We believe a full review of the system by the Productivity Commission would shed valuable light on the current surge in people accessing their super so they can afford to go to the dentist. 

We also recommend a targeted Seniors Dental Benefits Scheme be created similar to the Child Dental Benefit Scheme to provide seniors with assistance to meet dental costs. 

Super early access rules

Under the Australian Taxation Office’s early access rules, super can be accessed if two medical reports say treatment is required to treat a life-threatening illness, to alleviate acute or chronic pain, or in the case of mental illness. 

With dental surgery, one of these reports can be from the treating dentist. 

The ATO told the ABC, "The process appropriately and necessarily relies on the professional ethics of medical providers to prepare accurate reports. 

“ATO staff are not equipped, nor required, to question a patient’s diagnosis or the required treatment strategy or to otherwise interfere in the relationship between a patient and their medical professional in relation to their medical diagnosis or treatment.” 

Why the surge in early super access for dentistry?

There are diverse reasons, but the underlying cause can be traced to the COVID-19 pandemic when the federal government loosened the early access to super rules: 

  • People have become used to accessing their super to pay for cost-of-living pressures 

  • People who delayed essential dental work during COVID are getting work done in inflationary times 

  • The rise of facilitators who, for a fee, help dental patients navigate the paperwork to access their super 

  • “Generous” ATO early access rules allowing early access 

  • Some dentists profiting from encouraging patients to access their super. 

Private Healthcare Australia (PHA) CEO, Dr Rachel David, said, “We are very concerned about growing reports of dentists encouraging their patients to access their superannuation for dental care. It is a clear conflict of interest when the dentist can profit from it.” 

PHA’s measures to tighten the rules and stem the super-dental rush can be found here.  

Related reading: Dental Board, ABC, ABC video, Private Health Care Australia, NSA 

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