Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Jim Anderton plans his legacy

Jim Anderton is retiring at the election, but he's just posted the policy he hopes will be his legacy: a plan for free, universal dental care in New Zealand. Currently, 44% of us never see a dentist, and there are significant access problems for pensioners and the poor. Meanwhile, increased rates of obesity and diabetes - both of which are linked to dental decay - mean that these problems are likely to increase.

Anderton estimates the total cost of free universal dental care at between $670 million and $1 billion per year. He proposes several options for financing it: a levy on soft-drinks (a primary cause of dental harm), a dedicated levy similar to ACC, or rolling back tax cuts for the rich. To make it more affordable, he also proposes a staged implementation over 10 years, first targeting vulnerable groups such as pensioners and then gradually extending to cover everyone, in a similar manner to Labour's extension of primary health care. This would keep the annual cost increase manageable, effectively turning a big expensive policy initiative into a series of smaller, cheaper ones.

In short, its a good, progressive policy for New Zealand, something which will benefit all of us. I guess National will be opposing it then.

As for Labour, they've agreed to take this on after Anderton's retirement. So while Anderton may not get to do it himself, we will hopefully see it eventually from a future Labour government.