Senate committee rejects bill to save dentists

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Opposition health spokesperson Peter Dutton

A Senate Committee inquiring into legislation put forward by the Opposition to exonerate dentists being pursued for $21 million by Medicare has concluded that the legislation not be passed. In doing so, the committee acknowledged problems, but said the legislation was not the best way to solve them.

Back at the end of March, Opposition health spokesperson Peter Dutton introduced legislation in the House of Representatives that seeks to ensure that dentists who have provided appropriate dental treatment to almost one million chronically ill patients since November 2007 are not unfairly penalised for failing to comply with strict administrative requirements that have little or no bearing on patient treatment and patient outcomes.

Mr Dutton said at the time he was hopeful the bill—the Health Insurances (Dental Services) Bill 2012—had reasonable prospects of success. However, the bill was referred to the Senate’s Finance and Public Administration Legislation committee, which has recommended this week the bill not be passed.

In making its recommendation, the committee noted and accepted some serious problems related the adequacy of consultation before the scheme commenced, the information and education about the scheme provided by Medicare and the Department of Health and Ageing and the lack of consideration of the practice and procedures of dentistry. Submitters, including the ADA, argued that these had contributed to the high level of non-compliance in relation to the requirements of section 10 of the Health Insurance (Dental Services) Determination 2007. Further, it was argued that the requirement to repay all the benefits received from non-compliant claims was ‘unjust’.

Interestingly, one of the dissenting submissions was from the Australian Medical Association, who said; “The AMA does not support the Bill because it seeks to exonerate one class of health practitioner from the legal requirements applying to a particular set of Medicare items. If passed the Bill would create an inequity between dentists and other health practitioners (whose services attract Medicare benefits) to meet the legal requirements when billing Medicare items. We do not consider it appropriate that dentists can use “I did not know” as a defence against future non-compliance with the Determination. Nor do we consider it appropriate for Parliament to provide this defence by passing the Bill, particularly as we are not aware that this defence exists in any other Commonwealth law.”

The Department of Human Services, as reported elsewhere, advised the committee that dentists were required to pay back money they had earned through the CDDS because they had to—it was purely a compliance issue. Elsewhere the Department said it had received legal advice that it had no scope to educate dentists found to be non-compliant.

In conclusion, the committee said, “The Minister accepts that some but not all of the concerns that have been raised do require further consideration and that is a matter that is now underway within normal departmental processes. The committee therefore considers that the Bill may not be the best way to deal with the problems that have arisen, as the proposed actions would create further inequities.”

ADA Inc. President Dr Shane Fryer commented: “The ADA is in ongoing discussions with the Department of Human Services and the Minister for Human Services, Senator Kim Carr, to develop a solution to the harsh pursuit of dentists requiring them to repay monies for services legitimately provided to patients”.

 

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1 COMMENT

  1. What a mess.

    It seems that another generation of Australian dentists is learning that payments by third parties for dental services inevitably causes problems for all concerned.

    The report to the House of Commons on the NHS in the UK shows the same.

    While not having treated a single patient through the CDDS, I note that my professional indemnity insurance will rise by 50% this year. Thank you Guild Insurance for continuing to support dentisrty, I was expecting much worse.

    Thank you to Shane Fryer, Mark Sinclair and all their executives and staff for a Fantastic Job in standing up for the interests of dentists (and prothetists).

    I hope that out of all this debarkle that we have a stronger resolve to push the State Governments to fulfill their responsibilities to HCC holders by revamping their services and that if any future Medicare based system is being contemplated, that the lessons of the CDDS aren’t forgotten.

    My sympathies go to all those who have been subjected to the politically driven witch hunt.

    Think twice, or three times, before you get involved with third parties. Our patients are the best ones to decide what our services are worth.

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