Departmental officials have today admitted that mistakes were made with the auditing of Medicare’s Chronic Disease Dental Scheme (CDDS).
Appearing at a Senate Inquiry in Canberra, representatives from the Department of Health and Ageing and Human Services acknowledged mistakes have been made throughout the Federal Labor Government’s aggressive pursuit of dentists aimed at undermining the CDDS, which was set up by the Howard Government.
Under questioning from Senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells, the Shadow Minister for Ageing and Mental Health, and Senator for Tasmania, David Bushby, they confirmed that Minister Kim Carr has identified a need to examine the audit process and its impacts.
“It is clear that the Rudd Labor Government embarked on a deliberate strategy to dismantle this CDDS and replace it with its own scheme. Despite various unsuccessful attempts to shut down the CDDS in 2008, it changed tack and began “compliance activities” from November 2008 with the aim of discrediting it,” said Senator Fierravanti-Wells.
Furthermore, it was revealed that the Minister has sought legal advice to determine what level of discretion can be exercised when seeking repayments from dentists.
“It is not surprising that Minister Carr has needed to obtain legal advice. It is hoped that all cases will be reviewed. The whole process has been very badly handled,” Senator Fierravanti-Wells added.
“This Government has done nothing but try to denigrate a scheme which has delivered around 11 million treatments to more than a million Australians, hanging dentists out to dry in the process, causing untold grief,” Senator Bushby said.
“Finally, following relentless pressure from the Coalition, we have an acknowledgment from the Government that they’ve mishandled this witch-hunt. It is up to Minister Carr to immediately halt the Medicare Audit Taskforce and waiver any demands for repayments.”
Attempts by the Department to suggest that dentists failed to properly read and understand educational material on the scheme was dismissed by the Coalition Senators.
“It is highly unlikely that a large number of highly educated professionals would not understand these requirements, if the information was indeed provided,” Senator Bushby said.
The Inquiry was prompted by the introduction of a Private Members Bill (The Health Insurance (Dental Services) Bill No. 2) into the House of Representatives by Shadow Health Minister Peter Dutton and Senator Bushby in the Senate, which aims to redress past and future inequities regarding Medicare’s auditing of dental practitioners participating in the CDDS.
The CDDS aims to provide eligible patients with chronic conditions (mostly pensioners and the under privileged) up to $4250 over two years in Medicare benefits for dental services.
The Senate Finance and Public Administration Legislation Committee has received more than 400 written submissions in three weeks.