Published: December 17, 2019

A new Life Course Centre Working Paper provides the first evidence on the uptake of public dental benefit programs for Australian children and teenagers from disadvantaged families.

Using longitudinal data from a nationally representative survey, linked to administrative data on eligibility and uptake, the paper investigates the Australian Government’s Medicare Teen Dental Plan (MTDP), introduced in 2008, as well as the Child Dental Benefits Schedule (CDBS) which replaced the MTDP in 2014. The paper finds that only a third of all eligible families actually claimed their benefits under these programs. The uptake rates were about half of the targeted rates.

The Working Paper is authored by Life Course Centre Research Fellow Ha Trong Nguyen of the Telethon Kids Institute and The University of Western Australia, Huong Thu Le of The University of Western Australia, and Luke Connelly of the Centre for the Business and Economics of Health at The University of Queensland. The paper provides evidence that cognitive biases and behavioural factors are barriers to uptake. For example, mothers with worse mental health or riskier lifestyles are much less likely to claim the available benefits for their children. A lack of information may also be an important barrier to uptake, with children living in owned homes significantly more likely to take up the benefits than those in rented homes. The paper also points to possible a welfare stigma obstacle, with less uptake by eligible children from families with higher income or private health insurance.

These findings have important policy implications, including insights into policy to improve uptake in target population sub-groups. For example, the role of limited cognitive ability in non-uptake could be mitigated by reminders about eligibility or simplification of information. Reducing such barriers to uptake among disadvantaged groups may help to lessen the intergenerational transmission of disadvantage.

You can read the full Working Paper, Who’s Declining the “Free Lunch”? New Evidence from the Uptake of Public Child Dental Benefits, here.