Medicare would cover patients with serious dental problems they cannot afford to have treated, under a surprise expansion that is set to be announced by the Federal Government.
It would be a key part of an unprecedented extension of Medicare coverage embracing other non-medical services including physiotherapy and podiatry, along with other measures to reduce patients' out-of-pocket costs when visiting the doctor.
After week-long negotiations, the Health Minister, Tony Abbott, last night was finalising details of the $400 million addition to his $2.4 billion Medicare Plus package with the four independent senators, in a desperate bid to secure the Medicare safety net legislation in the Senate this week.
This is is an excellent idea, but the best idea of all would be to raise the scheduled fee to a level where bulk billing increased instead of continuing to fall. The parliamentary library has a table that fairly clearly shows that the bulk billing crisis began when Howard was elected and is a result of his failure to maintain the scheduled fee at a rate that encourages bulk billing.
The government has now firmly disavowed this reported plan.
Prime Minister John Howard today ruled out adopting a Labor plan to spend $300 million over four years on dental care, by responding to Opposition leader Mark Latham's request in parliament to do so with just one word: "No."
In an effort to win Senate support for its proposed Medicare Plus package, the government was reported to be considering extending the package to cover some dental, psychology and podiatry services.
Opposition Leader Mark Latham asked Mr Howard in parliament if he now accepted that dental care was the constitutional responsibility of the federal government.
"Will the government now adopt Labor's national dental program with an extra 1.3 million dental treatments, eliminating the existing backlog of 500,000 Australians, and substantially reducing waiting lists for the future?", Mr Latham asked.
"Mr Speaker, no," Mr Howard replied.