Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Ten Years of Crap Public Dentistry

The best Weaselversary piece I've read so far is this letter from ysesterday's Age:

AMID all the banner-waving and hand-wringing at 10 year's of John Howard's Australia I have one small thing to add: I want my tooth back, John.

I challenge anyone in the Howard Government to live on a casual wage around $300 a week and try to get their teeth fixed. Have a spin on a 39-month waiting list for public dental care in Melbourne.

My late tooth just needed a regular filling, but it had to wait, until after more than two years I finally qualified for emergency care because the pain was affecting my sleep. By then it was too late to save, so it's sadly departed.

I have another two teeth that need fillings, but they can't be treated in emergency care, so they have to wait. I wish I could afford to take them to a dentist; I wish I lived in a society where health care for all citizens was still a priority. I know that it's just one tooth, but it's a minor symptom of the Australia Howard has built. And I bet his teeth are perfect...

I wish I lived in a kinder place, Like Australia used to be when we were younger.
Nick Larkin, Brunswick West

I could go all "cardboard box in the middle of the road" on Nick Larkin, but as a survivor of dentistry myself, I know where he's coming from. I'm not sure though, that Nick is completely right about Oz being a kinder place when he was younger. Looking back to my first big contract as a free-lance IT consultant - that is a highly paid casual employee with a suit and tickets on himself - I remember a little casual conversation I had with a middle manager at the Melbourne office of a large multinational corporation. I can't remember exactly how the subject of "work for the dole" came up - it might have been that the Sixty Minutes report that kicked the idea into Australian political debate was that day's Water Cooler topic. What I do remember, is that I remarked that I didn't think much of the idea - most of the people sitting at desks on the techo half of the floor tended to be left of centre - but I do remember his venomous response. "Why shouldn't they work for the money. I have to work hard for mine. I pay taxes ..." and so on.

Oh yes, he was working hard for the money. On nearly the highest floor of one of Melbourne's most prestigious CBD buildings, in air-conditioned comfort, with spectacular views to stare out at when his brain got weary from the pen-pushing and he needed to relax his eyes. With weekend paint-ball or evening go-kart races available at company expense as "team-building exercises". Onthe other side ofthe floor us techies were working hard for the money too - actually being paid for something we enjoyed doing and spending enough money to clothe an entire third-world family on snappy suits, shirts and D & G ties. I still have those souvenirs of more affluent times.

One thing I learnt from that little incident, was to be bloody careful about airing my political opinions around middle-managers. You never could tell which of them would turn out to be a venomous, self-satisfied little git and start spitting out bile and occasionally, your actual saliva. Those people have always been with us - even in the kinder times that we fondly look back on - and it's to satisfy them that we have work for the dole and continuing reform of our welfare system to make it ever more targetted - that is, ever more niggardly. There are people in the Australian middle class who actually do need to look down on someone poorer to complete their happiness with their lives. They're called Howard voters. There's another section of the middle class - a broader one I hope - who don't. They used to be called traditional Liberal voters - but these days they're dismissed under the rubric Doctor's Wives.

I haven't checked today's letters in The Age yet, but I wouldn't be surprised to find one telling Nick Larkin that the loss of his tooth was all his own fault - he should have taken it easy on the chocolate, lollies and fizzy drinks. Well, maybe not the chocolate so much - according to Harold McGee's On Food and Cooking (p 658), chocolate and cocoa actually inhibit bacteria that cause tooth decay. The McGee was purchased with a Christmas gift voucher by the way - there's no way I could afford a seventy dollar book on my budget. Which, when I sat down to redraw it this afternoon was looking like complete crap. Too many essentials to leave anything for discretionary spending.

Our (at this stage hypothetical) letter writer will no doubt express sympathy for Nick's position before going on to point out the Howard government's splendid achievement in funding public dental care for people who really need it while reducing the costs to the taxpayer and increasing the annual budget surplus. And the situation was, of course, much worse during the Hawke/Keating years. Particularly the Keating part. The letter will have been written by a Howard voter.


Brownie said...

The ADA website says:"There is no such thing as a 'recommended fee' for any dental treatment. A dentist charges what he or she thinks is appropriate for the service they provide, taking into account all their costs and the particular circumstances of each treatment. The suggestion that some dentists depart from an 'approved' or ‘recommended’ level of fees, thereby creating 'gaps' between the fee and the Health Fund rebates is both false and misleading. In fact, it is against Trade Practices law for dentists to collude in the maintenance of any set fee scale.

Health Funds set their rebates at a level that suits their commercial needs. Those rebates are not related to any recognised fee scale. The responsibility of adequately adjusting rebates lies with the Health Funds.

You can telephone the Association for further information on fee setting mechanisms, but remember there are no 'recommended' fees."

A check-up exam cost me $112 and the subsequent appointment for a filling was $150. This was too long ago, as I too have a similar income to The Age letterwriter. He is erroneously blaming JHo for the loss of his tooth, when the actual cause of his inability to pay for dental care, is that he failed to achieve a Law Degree.

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