Labour commits to extend free dental care

A Labour Government will begin New Zealand’s journey to universal dental care by expanding free basic dental care to nearly 800,000 under 30-year-olds, leader Chris Hipkins announced today.

“New Zealand has some of the highest recorded rates of unmet need for adult dental care – overwhelmingly because of cost,” Chris Hipkins said.

“In 2022 alone, 1.5 million Kiwis didn’t visit a dentist because it was just too expensive. Extending free basic dental care is a huge move and one which will ultimately benefit all New Zealanders.

“The policy I’m announcing is part of Labour’s 10-point Cost of Living Plan, and an integral part of our wider series of targeted cost of living investments.

“Children and young people currently have access to free basic dental services but as soon as they turn 18, they face big bills and often drop out of the system,” Chris Hipkins said

“Labour is making the first steps in our long-term commitment to building better oral health right across New Zealand, keeping people in the system and keeping all Kiwis healthy.”

Labour will expand dental care in two stages, reaching:

  • 18 - 23-year-olds from July 2025
  • 18 - 29-year-olds from July 2026

“By the end of our next term in Government 40% of all Kiwis will have access to free dental care.”

Its plan is costed at $390 million over the four years from 2024. Successive Labour Governments will expand the commitment based on workforce, healthcare capacity and fiscal settings.

Labour Health Spokesperson Dr Ayesha Verrall says poor oral health has a lasting impact on both mental and physical health and can lead to avoidable hospitalisations.

“We have seen an increase in the number of people admitted to hospital due to complications from poor oral health.

“Helping people keep their teeth in better condition and out of hospital will take pressure off the system.

“Our policy includes essential dental procedures such as an annual check-up, a clean, X-rays, basic fillings and extractions – everything needed to set New Zealanders up for good oral health in their later years.

“The policy we’re announcing today is a substantial step towards Labour’s ultimate goal of universal dental care. It prioritises those most likely to put off dental care for financial reasons – young people.

“Labour knows such a fundamental change in our public health settings needs to be carefully designed,” Ayesha Verrall added.

“Choosing a start date of July 1 2025 means we have time to enable the sector to prepare, which is why we’re rolling out the policy in stages.

“Growing the dental workforce is hugely important to Labour. Our government will work collaboratively with health agencies, regulatory and professional bodies to make sure we have the oral health therapists, dental hygienists and dentists we need.

“We will increase the number of places in Bachelor of Dental Surgery course by 50 per cent.

“And we want to strengthen existing youth dental care. The next Labour Government will actively work with families to enrol their children with a dentist, and expand availability in different community settings like Māori and Pasifika health providers,” Ayesha Verrall said.

“The health reforms are focused on fairness, on the notion that everyone is entitled to the best healthcare no matter who they are or where they live.

“We want to keep people well and prevent costly illnesses to make sure they get the care they need in the community near where they live.

“It’s also why we’ve made medicines free by removing the $5 co-payment on prescriptions, built a free community mental health service from the ground up and offered more free services in pharmacies and general practice.

“We’ve also got a strong track record on taking the tough decisions on prevention – like smokefree and fluoridation – and we’ve invested in better breast and cervical screening programmes.

“Today’s announcement is a bold step in that direction,” said Ayesha Verrall.

Chris Hipkins said he was hugely proud of Labour’s existing achievements and future plans to help Kiwi families.

“In uncertain economic times, New Zealand needs simple, clear and smart policies which provide targeted help, practical cost of living support and make things a little easier.

”Like other key elements in our Cost of Living policy, including dropping GST from fruit and vegetables and Paid Partner Leave, expanding dental health care will deliver for New Zealanders.

“Only Labour is in it for Kiwis, and for their families,” Chris Hipkins said.

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