A step-by-step move to universal dental care is priceless – Grant Robertson

Acting Prime Minister Grant Robertson says it would take more than a billion dollars a year in additional funding to move directly to universal dental care in Aotearoa.
Photo: RNZ/Samuel Rillstone

The government is under renewed pressure to invest heavily in dental care after a report found that the treatment was so expensive that some people were pulling out their own teeth.

The Tooth be tell report, commissioned by the Association of Salaried Medical Specialists, said free or subsidized access to dental care in Aotearoa would save millions of dollars in healthcare over time.

But Acting Prime Minister Grant Robertson told Report tomorrow moving directly to universal dental care would require more than a billion dollars a year in additional funding, and any additional investment required would need to be weighed against other priorities in the health sector.

He said the government has moved to extend dental care coverage in this year’s budget, with more support available from next month.

“We actually tripled the low-income dental grants, said they don’t have to be just for emergencies, they are now available for preventive dental care,” he said.

“This applies not only to people on benefits, but also to people with a low income.”

He said he didn’t think the fact that the grants had to be applied for through Work and Income would deter people from applying for them.

“For low-income people, I am sure there is an opportunity to get the support for it [dental care] is something they will pick up on.”

The reason why dental care was not included in general health care was largely historical, Robertson said, and while there were “lots of things” he would like to do in the health system, tax considerations couldn’t be ruled out.

“I don’t underestimate the cost of dental care,” he said.

“Obviously it’s meant to be free up to age 18 — even there we sometimes struggle to make sure dentists are available to do that job.”

He said dental care should stand alongside many other priorities in the health sector.

“Going straight to universal dental care right away would cost more than a billion dollars a year in additional money. We have to weigh that against the other things that are needed in the health system.”

Pay equity in professional sports ‘on the horizon’

Robertson, who is also sports minister, said progress towards pay equality across all professional sports was clear, but it wouldn’t happen overnight.

Speaking in the wake of Black Ferns’ Rugby World Cup win on Saturday, he said that while some organizations were further ahead in their journey towards pay equality, he believed a shift in mindset was underway.

“For me, this is just part of us raising the visibility of women’s sport, valuing it the right way and while it may take some time in all sports, I see it as something that will happen.”

New Zealand rugby in particular had made great strides in that regard, he said.

“In the last few years we’ve seen the Sevens team get paid the same as their male counterparts, we’ve seen the 15-a-side Black Ferns get full-time contracts – getting paid, not at the level of the All Blacks, but about the level of a Super Rugby player – and so I can see the direction of travel there and I just think it’s an inevitability given who the Black Ferns are, how they play and the public interest in it.”

He said the government has invested a significant amount of money in sport in general and has had a strategy for women and girls in sport since 2018, which included “targeted initiatives around participation and around elite coaching”.

The excuse heard in the past that there was no sponsorship or commercial interest in women’s sports was fading, Robertson believed.

“Those sports where there’s independent commercial revenue, where people get paid. I see pay equality on the horizon. It might take a few years, but I think we’ll get there soon.”

  • NZ Rugby considering World Cup bonus for Black Ferns
  • Meeting between China and US ‘good for world stability’

    Robertson said a face-to-face meeting between US President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Bali was important for the global economy.

    He said that New Zealand has long-standing diplomatic relations with China and that he was confident that they would soon be rekindled in person.

    “It is only a very recent development that President Xi is leaving China and meeting others,” Robertson said, adding that it was “good for the stability of the world and for the stability of the global economy to let China and the US talk . “.

    “I’m not underestimating the issues that exist between them, but from New Zealand’s point of view as a small trading nation, we need stability in the world.”

    Faster, cheaper RMA reforms

    The government will today announce long-awaited reforms to New Zealand’s resource management law.

    It has been working to replace the Resource Management Act (RMA) since taking office in 2017, and National attempted to do so when it was last in power.

    The law sets out the rules for land use and development, but has long been criticized for being too complex and unworkable.

    Robertson said it would be a faster, cheaper version of the RMA, which governments, oppositions and industries have been complaining about for more than 30 years.

    “Models from the Department of the Environment show that moving to the new resource management system will reduce user costs by approximately 19 percent per year – or approximately $149 million per year.”

    Details will be announced at 1 p.m.

    A step-by-step move to universal dental care is priceless – Grant Robertson

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