Health minister: Increase in dental allowance depends on budget talks

Riina Sikkut.
Riina Sikkut. Source: Ken Mürk/ERR

Possible ways to increase dental allowance are also among the issues to be reviewed during discussions on the new state budget. Estonian Minister of Health Riina Sikkut (SDE) considers it important to raise dental benefit rates.

The Ministry of Social Affairs has finalized its proposals to increase dental benefit rates. According to Minister of Health Riina Sikkut (SDE), the benefit system currently in place is outdated. While in the past, the allowance was enough to cover around two trips to the dentist, now it is only sufficient for a single visit. Increasing dental benefits is also including in the coalition agreement. However, it ultimately depends on the outcome of the budget negotiations, with the current financial situation meaning the state is required to make savings rather than increase spending.

"First we will put the financial framework in place and then we will start discussing the design of the benefits. On the one hand, dental care is really expensive and difficult to access, so in light of the recommendations made, the benefits could be better targeted at those groups who have lower incomes and may at the same time have a high need for treatment. On the other hand, simply taking into account the price increases, the benefit rate ought to be increased so that people receive at least the same level of service as before," said Sikkut.

How much the dental allowance can be raised should become clear in around a month's time, according to Sikkut.

"The last time the dental allowance went up, it increased in €10 increments, from €30 to €40. Considering the price increases, we could actually aim for a bigger rise. However, it is really difficult to provide definitive figures at the moment," said Sikkut.

According to the Ministry of Social Affairs, it is no longer a problem that many dentists are not interested in providing services at the prescribed prices, meaning the dental allowance can only be used to access services from a small number of practitioners.

"Now, just over 80 percent of dental clinics have signed contracts and so, Estonia-wide it is possible for people to use the benefits to improve the health of their teeth," Sikkut said.

Ideally, the health minister would like the benefits to be used to help people focus on ways to prevent the need for serious dental treatment. However, she also admitted that this can be addressed in the future.

"The problem is that people come to the dentist when their teeth already require treatment. What we need is a fundamental change, so that more is done on prophylaxis or prevention of dental disease. However, how to change the benefit scheme to achieve that is a discussion for the future. These are usually very costly interventions in any case, and we don't have an agreement on this in the government at the moment," Sikkut aid.

So for the time being, the plan is simply to increase benefits where possible, with no major substantive restructuring planned. One change is envisaged however, which would allow the cross-use of dental and prosthesis benefits.

"So that a person who, for example, does not qualify for a dental benefit, could link their three-year dental benefit and prosthesis benefit in order to cover a larger share of the cost of their prostheses," explained Sikkut.


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Editor: Michael Cole

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