6 September 2012 Subject: Closure of the Chronic Disease Dental Scheme
PRICE: Now we have been talking a lot this week about the changes, announced by Tanya Plibersek, the Health Minister, last week to the dental scheme. Now what the Gillard Government is intending to do, is by 2014, is really deliver what they promised to deliver, which is a Medicare version of dental care. It's going to be means tested, their ambition really is to get more young people and children through dental checks, by using a Medicare type card. The problem is that they don't have the money and the detail of the scheme is very sketchy. The dental association themselves have been very critical. Now we've started getting calls from people this week who are involved in the current scheme, which was setup by Tony Abbott, when he was Health Minister, in the Howard Government, which looks after people with chronic dental health problems. Now Julia Gillard and Tanya Plibersek to a degree, made a great point during that announcement of saying that there was going to be a massive saving, when this Tony Abbott scheme was axed. And they are in fact axing it at the beginning of November this year, which leaves a big gap between the end of the scheme and the new scheme, if it ever happens and some of the people who are ringing us are quite distressed about this. I got to tell you that Dr Mark Sinclair of the dental association is not too impressed either.
SINCLAIR (GRAB): The Government has always said that this scheme was poorly devised and poorly implemented. I would put to you Steve, in real terms, I believe this scheme closes and I could be wrong, I think Friday this week in terms of applications by patients to see their medicos, who are the effective gatekeepers of this scheme that is currently at foot. That means that if you are seen next week seeking admission to this scheme, there is every chance, well not every chance, there is no chance that you will be admitted under this current scheme. The clinicians are faced with the prospect of making sure that all the work that is allocated to be done, has to be effectively completed by the 30th of November. As I stated earlier there was no effective period of discussion, negotiation or advice sought about a tapering period, a period when work could be completed before the launch date of the new scheme. There was certainly no discussion whatsoever, to the best of my knowledge, between the profession and the Government, as per our request in the media release today, Steve. We would implore the Government to think again about the termination date of this current scheme. So effectively it's marginalised a lot of people in terms of completion of their treatment.
PRICE: Dr Mark Sinclair on the program last night. Now we asked to speak to Health Minister Tanya Plibersek today, several requests met with stony silence, not even a refusal to talk about this, they just don't want to speak about it. Peter Dutton is the Opposition Spokesperson on matters to do with Health, good to talk to you again Peter.
DUTTON: Good to be back on the program, thanks Steve.
PRICE: It would appear that we are leaving a whole lot of people with serious dental issues with no where to go?
DUTTON: I am really angry and upset for a lot of people who have chronic disease and have received treatment under this plan and the treatment hasn't finished or looking at starting a treatment plan. I've got to say we have been flooded with enquiries and concerns, from particularly cancer sufferers, and chronic diseases otherwise, who are in a flap about what's going to happen because as you rightly point out, they are going to wind this scheme up this year and they are not going to start their scheme until July 2014. I know Julia Gillard was going out saying this is a great thing, because it is going to save the Government a heap of money and help them get towards their surplus but people with chronic diseases are going to be left in pain. The success of the chronic disease scheme was to provide support to some, who would otherwise have to live with the pain of serious dental problems. I think the Government needs to reconsider their position
PRICE: We've had some of our callers ringing, saying look I've just got a phone call from my dentist, saying look I've got a lot more work to do, but we are not going to do it, between now and when the scheme closes off, you're going to have to put yourself on the public waiting list.
DUTTON: And the work will not be done for a number of years, that's the reality. I know that the Government's been critical of the amount of money that's been spent under this scheme, which was devised by Tony Abbott, but the success of the scheme has really been as a result of the demand right across society for dental services. I think the public want to see us spend more in the dental space and help more people get out of what is a life of misery, from decay and pain that results from all sorts of conditions of the mouth. I just can't believe that the Government is so callous, that they would wind this scheme up. If they are not happy with the program that's fine, then start their new program but don't have an 18 month gap when people are going to miss out on services all together. That's why Tanya Plibersek and Julia Gilllard need to admit they have made a mistake, reassess the end date of this program and at least continue it in some form, up until the time when their own program starts.
PRICE: Well they've even got, you heard Mark Sinclair there, Mark Sinclair's not a bloke who wants to politicise everything, he runs a dental association, he's saying that it's an impending disaster. You can't on the one hand, as the Government is, say look aren't we great, we are going to fix everyone's teeth and Medicare's going to pay for it and on the other hand say but for the next 18 months, hoping we get elected, nothing will happen.
DUTTON: Well I think Steve it's a bit of pattern, across education funding where they are promising a bit of funding but not for many years into the future, they have done it with the dental scheme. I just can't understand as we have discussed, and as your callers have noted to you, and as people send me through the detail, why the Government would allow people to languish in this situation, people who are obviously in desperate need of the work. And why there would be an 18 month gap, between when this program closes and the next one starts. Our call is really on the Prime Minister, to at least continue the program in some form, so that we can provide some relief to these people who are really in a desperate situation. I can understand it's the right of the Government to make decisions about ending programs and starting new programs but I just think it's a callous arrangement, if it's just for political purposes, to close this scheme and not have the new one start up until the mid of 2014, well and truly after the next election.
PRICE: Have you yet decided what you'll do if you win, in regard to dental?
DUTTON: We've said in relation to the scheme that there were some sensible changes that could be made to scheme. In fact I had approached Nicola Roxon, about two years ago, to say that the Coalition would look favourably at some tightening up of the scheme, to make sure there wasn't rorting going on, to make sure that as many people as possible benefited from the scheme. But I have got to say it became abundantly clear to me, very quickly, that the Government had formed a view a couple of years ago that they wanted to close the scheme down, not because it was a bad scheme, but I think because Tony Abbott had set the scheme up and they wanted to claim credit for their own dental scheme.
PRICE: Payback time.
DUTTON: It's just the most petty, pathetic approach of a Minister of a Federal Government that I have seen and I think the Government is going to cop a lot of backlash on this issue, because Steve, people do need assistance, it's expensive to get dental work done and if you've got an underlying chronic disease, such as cancer, and you require the support of this scheme, this was really a scheme that was changing people's lives for the better and now people are going to be left without that support and I just don't know how people are going to get by without the support of the scheme, over the next 18 months.
PRICE: Good to catch up, we'll try and get Tanya Plibersek to finally answer the phone, tomorrow or early next week. Thanks for your time.
DUTTON: Please do.
PRICE: Peter Dutton there, the Shadow Spokesperson.