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Monday, 21 May 2012
Page: 4885

Mr EWEN JONES (Herbert) (11:49): I rise to speak on the updated Health Insurance (Dental Services) Bill 2012 and support the many hardworking dentists who give of their time and energy to help others who cannot afford private health insurance. The shadow minister for health and member for Dickson is 100 per cent correct when he says this is an extreme reaction to what is primarily a clerical error. Let us all be straight here. If there has been fraud, if the work has not been done but the dentist has claimed for services he or she has not provided, then sue them into bankruptcy. To do something like that is beyond criminal, because they would be gorging on the carcass of the people who are most vulnerable.

But where a dentist has simply not completed a form, it should be clear to all of us here that when someone has been referred to a dentist by their GP they must be in the most dire dental straits. When confronted with someone coming to them who has severe health issues relating to rotting teeth, any health professional will invariably act first. If they have not completed the forms properly, then let us get them completed and move on. What is the big game here? What are we trying to achieve? In suing some dentist into bankruptcy over paperwork tardiness are we more or less likely to see health professionals such as dentists tell the public system that they will take on public patients? Are we more or less likely to see our dental waiting lists reduced? I contend that most health professionals, when confronted with the severe consequences of noncompliance, would baulk at doing what is essentially the right thing.

The member for Bass was talking about the paperwork that has been going out to all the dentists—fact sheets and all those sorts of things. We drown small business in paperwork; we drown professionals in paperwork. To do these things and to claim back absolutely everything that has been done when the work has been done professionally and properly is just wrong in my thinking. What would be a better result for the patient? This bill requires the minister to do one or more of the following within 30 days of the act commencing: firstly, making an amendment to the determination in accordance with the amendment set in schedule 1 of the bill—the proposed amendment and schedule 1 provides exceptions to a10(2) of the determination where the practitioner did not know about the subsection, did not fully understand or appreciate the subsection or was under a reasonable apprehension about the need to comply with that subsection; secondly, waiving the right to repayment of the Medicare benefits; thirdly, making act of grace payments; fourthly, providing for the inequity to be addressed through the income tax system; and, fifthly, taking such other action as is necessary to redress the inequity.

The minister must prepare a report of action that has been taken and table it in each of the houses of parliament within 15 sitting days. Of the 89 completed audits, 63 dentists have been found to be non-compliant. Of these 63, 51 have been found to have completed the work. In fact, many dentists have gone above and beyond what was approved by Medicare and done extra work at no cost to the patient or the taxpayer. This is because, like the great majority of health professionals in Australia, they want to do the right thing. Medicare has said it has shown leniency, but only 17 of the 63, roughly one-quarter, have incurred only 'education action' with no cost recovery.

There are strong links between poor oral health and poor systemic health. If you have a bad run with your teeth, you will end up being sick. We need to be doing more to get successful, professional dentists to avail themselves to assist with the backlog of public dental work, but we need it to be on a productivity basis. We cannot make it so hard for professionals that they virtually throw their hands up in the air and walk away and charge privately and make more money for themselves. Charge and convict the rorters of the system, but, when the work and more has been done, do not do not hang dentists because the paperwork is not done to our liking. Work with them and get the necessary crosschecks done and then get out of their way. They have patients waiting.

I see dentists all the time who give of their time. In Townsville we have a bloke by the name of Daryl Holmes, who volunteers his time for three weeks of the year. He goes up to the Torres Strait and works in the Southern Highlands of Papua New Guinea performing up to 80 extractions per day.

An honourable member interjecting—

Mr EWEN JONES: You do not know if he has made a mistake, but he is giving of his time, he is volunteering of his time, and those are the things that we are going to have to watch out for—that we make it so hard for people that they simply do not make themselves available for the system. (Time expired)