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Thursday, 16 August 2007
Page: 1


Mr ABBOTT (Minister for Health and Ageing) (9:01 AM) —I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

This bill introduces amendments which will increase access to dental treatment under Medicare for people with chronic conditions and complex care needs.

People with chronic conditions, such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cancer, often have poor oral health, which can adversely affect their condition or general health.

From 1 November 2007, new dental items will be introduced on the Medicare Benefits Schedule, enabling these patients to receive Medicare benefits for a broad range of dental services.

Eligible patients will be able to access up to $4,250 in Medicare dental benefits over two consecutive calendar years. This amount includes any Medicare safety net benefits payable to the patient. Patients will be able to access benefits for any combination of dental assessment and treatment services, based on their clinical needs.

I am pleased to say this is more generous than what was originally announced in the budget. The new arrangements were developed following consultations with stakeholders and will provide more flexibility for patients to receive complex treatment when it is required.

The Commonwealth government has committed $384.6 million over four years to this measure—a significant investment that will help eligible patients to access dental treatment in the private sector. The Medicare items complement, but are not intended to replace, public dental services which are the responsibility of state and territory governments.

The new Medicare items will be targeted at people with chronic conditions and complex care needs where the person’s oral health is impacting on, or is likely to impact on, his or her general health. To be eligible, a person needs to be managed by a general practitioner under specific chronic disease management and multidisciplinary care plans. Patients will need to be referred by their GP to a dentist.

The Health Insurance Amendment (Medicare Dental Services) Bill 2007 enables the implementation of the measure in two ways.

First, it enables eligible patients to receive Medicare benefits up to a specified amount for dental services.

Second, the bill enables Medicare benefits to be payable for the supply of dental prostheses, including dentures. This will particularly help the elderly, many of whom have chronic and complex conditions and who need dentures to be able to eat a balanced, healthy diet.

The new Medicare items complement other Commonwealth initiatives announced in the last federal budget designed to increase access to dental treatment and support the dental workforce. These include investments in a new School of Dentistry and Oral Health at Charles Sturt University, more rural clinical placements, and dental scholarships for Indigenous students.

Together these measures will help to further strengthen dental care in Australia. I commend the bill to the House.

Debate (on motion by Ms Roxon) adjourned.