House debates

Wednesday, 19 September 2007

Health Insurance Amendment (Medicare Dental Services) Bill 2007

Second Reading

Debate resumed from 18 September, on motion by Mr Abbott:

That this bill be now read a second time.

9:07 am

Photo of Tony AbbottTony Abbott (Warringah, Liberal Party, Leader of the House) Share this | | Hansard source

in reply—In rising to sum up this debate, I thank all who have contributed and I will make a few observations on what has been said. Let me say at the outset how disappointed I am that members opposite have indicated that they are going to oppose the Health Insurance Amendment (Medicare Dental Services) Bill 2007. Whatever flaws they may have identified in this bill, whatever problems there may have been with the scheme which this bill will radically transform, the fact is that under this bill $385 million will be spent on dental care for people with serious dental problems. Surely if this House is going to take dental care seriously the least it can do is support this bill. I think that members opposite have made a very serious mistake in declaring that they will oppose this bill and that they will fatally undermine their claims to be taking dental care seriously.

Let me address some of the issues which have been raised. Members opposite say that the scheme that this bill radically transforms was a failed scheme. Sure there were problems in the scheme. That is why this bill is necessary—to fix those problems—but the problems did not include the fact that you needed a referral from a doctor.

As it previously operated, the scheme did not cover treatment; it offered only consultations. It offered up to three dental consultations a year, to the cost of $220 or thereabouts. Sure that is a problem, because people who have bad teeth do not want a consultation to be told they have bad teeth; they want treatment, and that is precisely what this bill allows. Under this bill, people will have access to 450 separate dental items under Medicare. A whole range of treatments and a whole range of prevention measures will be facilitated by this bill. You can have fillings, you can have extractions, you can have root canal work, you can have dentures. The whole gamut of dental treatment will be available and that is why this bill is necessary. This bill will take a scheme that did have problems and make it work.

There is no real problem with the referral system. Under the enhanced primary care items, GPs put together 400,000 team care plans in the last financial year. So GPs do not have a problem with paperwork. Under these team care plans, one million allied health consultations were delivered. So allied health professionals do not have a problem with paperwork. There is no problem with the referral system, there is no problem with the paperwork system. The only problem with the scheme as it previously operated is that it did not cover treatment. That problem is being corrected by this bill and that is why it is so wrong for members opposite to oppose this bill.

Members opposite have their own scheme. Having told us for three years now that the government’s scheme was no good because it covered only consultations, they now have their own scheme—a smaller scheme which covers only consultations. As I said, if you have rotten teeth, there is no point going to the dentist for a consultation which tells you that you have rotten teeth. What you need is treatment and there is no treatment in Labor’s scheme. Labor’s scheme does not cost as much as the government’s scheme, it does not cover as much as the government’s scheme, and it does not last as long as the government’s scheme. Our scheme is ongoing. It is there forever. It is part of Medicare—not just this year, next year and the year after; it is there forever. Whereas Labor’s paltry, pathetic scheme is just for three years.

This government learns from its experience. This government is capable of learning from things which it could have done better. We put a very modest dental scheme in place back in 2004. It did not work very well. We have learned from that mistake, and this bill fixes it. Labor has not learned anything. Labor in 2007 wants to restore a scheme which Labor thought was best practice in 1994. Really and truly: like the Bourbons, they have learned nothing and forgotten nothing. They have not thought it through. It is typical of members opposite: they do not do the thinking, they do not do the hard work. The idea that something that was good enough in 1994 is still good enough in 2007 is just ridiculous. I commend this bill to the House.

Question put:

That this bill be now read a second time.

Bill read a second time.

Message from the Governor-General recommending appropriation announced.