AS MANY as 30 per cent of country dental patients are struggling to meet their bills and the need for a universal dental scheme for regional NSW is urgent according to a Dubbo dental prosthetist.
Peter Muller has pleaded at a hearing of the House of Representatives Health and Ageing Committee to subsidise dental care the same way Medicare has covered access to doctors.
He said since the closure of the chronic disease dental scheme (CDDS) in November last year, no Medicare benefits are made available to Australian residents in need of dental assistance.
The public hearing, held at the Charles Sturt University Dental and Oral Health Clinic, included MPs Jill Hall, Steve Irons and Geoff Lyons, as well as Member for Parkes Mark Coulton.
Mr Muller told the panel of government officials he had helped 30 per cent of his patients and "worked for nothing" if any had problems in paying the hefty dental bill but needed a denture.
Mrs Hall, the chair of the hearing, said Mr Muller identified the problems and the reason the CDDS closed down, the cost blow-out and the misuse of the system.
"You addressed the gap fee plus the fact there were many people that needed to access features and other dental health treatment but couldn't because they didn't have the CDDS," she said.
"They are the type of reasons the scheme closed down."
"What you're suggesting is we put in place a universal dental scheme and you'd like to see a dental health levy, the same way Medicare is covered."
The MPs were surprised to hear Mr Muller had helped 30 per cent of his patients, with Mr Coulton suggesting patients use vouchers from the $1.3 billion National Partnership Agreement (NPA), which will be accessible from July 1 next year.
The NPA will be customised for each state and territory depending on the demonstrated local needs and progress under the 2012-13 Dental Waiting List NPA.
Mr Lyons said increasing the Medicare levy to include dentistry “wasn’t an easy thing to do” as people did not like to increase taxes.
Mr Irons asked the dental prosthetist what should be done to bring dentists to the country, particularly those that were trained overseas.
“You have to understand where the people come from and under what circumstances. If they come to Australia, invite them into your community,”Mr Muller said.
“The problem (of rural dentists) will be addressed in time and should start at university.”
At the end of the meeting, Mr Muller remained positive but knew it would take a while for anything to happen.
“We’re more ahead now because it’s been addressed to the government,” he said.
“If I see areas like this I have to address it, otherwise I’m a bad practitioner. I have an obligation to the community.
“Dubbo is a very modern and great country town. After 20 years of living here, it’s improved so much. There’s no reason why people wouldn’t want to stay in the country.
“We have a system in Australia that works.”
The committee also heard from representatives from the Western NSW Health Service, the Royal Flying Doctors Service, Bila Muuji Aboriginal Health Services and the Australian Dental and Oral Health Therapists’ Association.
A report, from all three public hearings, will be tabled in Parliament later this year.