THE Federal Government has moved to ease fears local public dental waiting lists will blow out when a Medicare-funded dental scheme closes next month.
Responding to concerns raised by the Federal Opposition, including Federal Member for Gippsland Darren Chester in Parliament last week, Federal Health Minister Tanya Plibersek said there could be a “seamless” transition from the soon-to-be-axed Chronic Diseases Dental Scheme to the release of promised public dental waiting list “blitz” money.
Last week Mr Chester told parliament the government had failed to “do its homework…and get its details right” when it recently announced a $4 billion dental package which so far, remained unfunded.
Mr Chester said Ms Plibersek’s dental reform announcement was “shambolic” and evidence of “a pattern of behaviour where, in its desperation and its need to try and generate positive news cycles, it is making a lot of unfunded promises and feel-good announcements to try and engender some level of support within the community.”
Local dental providers have collectively expressed concern the closure of the CDDS more than a year before the scheduled commencement of the new dental package would add significant pressure to already-stretched Latrobe Valley public dental waiting lists.
Mr Chester referred to the “thousands of Australians who face the unfortunate situation of putting up with a gap of at least 13 months before receiving treatment under its dental plan”.
In response, Ms Plibersek told parliament “waiting list blitz” money, promised in the government’s May budget, which had not yet been delivered, would “be available as early as the beginning of December”, allowing for a “seamless transition”.
She said states could use their share of $550 million to “use private dentists to expand their workforce in areas where there is not access to public dental scheme”.
Where there were “established medical services (and) community health organisations, states will be able to contract with any of these organisations to increase their capacity to deliver services on the ground.”
Ms Plibersek said the CDDS was a scheme “open to misuse” which cost $80 million per month to run. The minister said in order to access “blitz” money states would need to sign on to National Partnerships committing them to “maintaining their effort in providing state dental services”.
Latrobe Community Health Services chief executive Ben Leigh recently told The Express the State Government had withdrawn more than $500,000 from the local service’s dental budget this year, impacting on its capacity to manage waiting lists increasing by about 180 patients per month. Mr Leigh also raised concerns the Federal Government had not announced how it would fund the public dental system in 2013-14 since the new reform package would not start until 1 July 2014.