Medicare stalemate adds to confusion for dentists

Confusion reigns when it comes to the Government's legal advice on Medicare dental.

Newspaper reports this week suggest that there is further confusion ahead for dentists being chased for $21 million worth of Medicare breaches, with the government telling a Senate committee this week that it was rethinking its pursuit of the dentists after receiving contradictory legal advice on the issue.

According to a report in the Sydney Morning Herald, the committee is inquiring into an opposition call for legislation to overturn the mandatory repayment provisions in cases where the dentists have merely breached administrative requirements. Dentists who have failed to follow paperwork rules in claiming Medicare fees are strictly liable to reimburse the government in full, according to the latest legal advice on this long-running issue. Earlier advice had said they could be counselled.

Official demands on 65 dentists to repay more than $21 million for Medicare breaches have turned into a bureaucratic quagmire, the newspaper said.

The latest development follows the refusal by many dentists to comply with government demands to repay a total of more than $21 million, in many cases for failing to provide the patient’s doctor with a treatment plan. With another 535 audits of dentists under way, there is the likelihood hundreds more dentists will face claims for repayment.

An associate secretary at the Department of Human Services, Ben Rimmer, told the Senate’s finance and public administration committee that legal advice had shown that those found to be non-compliant had incurred a debt that the Commonwealth was obliged to recover.

This was ”a matter of concern” in relation to the treatment of 17 dentists who had been dealt with under the earlier educative policy, he said.

”That is one of the factors that has led the minister [Kim Carr] to ask us to inform the committee that he believes some of the matters under discussion today require further consideration,” he said.


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