RESTRICTIONS on dental cover for medical card patients are causing chaos, confusion and hardship, an Oireachtas committee has been told.
In a submission to the Joint Committee on Health and Children, the Irish Dental Association (IDA) claimed treatment was being denied to cancer patients, special needs patients, elderly patients and those requiring dental checks ahead of major surgical operations.
The IDA said it believed that the suffering caused to 1.6 million dental patients was entirely avoidable.
At the end of April, the Health Service Executive (HSE) issued a circular on April 27 announcing that treatment available under the dental treatment services scheme would be restricted to emergency treatment only.
Last week, the Supreme Court decided to restore the High Court injunction restraining the High Court from unilaterally varying its contract with two dentists under the medical card scheme.
The IDA said it fully supported the case taken by two dentists.
IDA chief executive Fintan Hourihan said the circular was issued without any warning.
No clarity had been provided by the HSE to the patients, the participating dentists of the HSE’s own staff on the measures proposed in the circular.
“Everyone knows that prevention is cheaper than cure, especially in the case of dental care,” he pointed out. “Poor oral health and failure to treat leads to the development of more complicated problems, the treatment of which is generally more complex and more costly. So the slash and burn approach applied by the HSE to the medical card scheme makes no financial sense, as well as being an indictment of our care for the less well off in society,” he said.
The IDA wants the HSE to suspend the circular and meet the association to discuss alternative sources of funding. “This is the route map out of the present chaos and we need to act now before lasting damage is done to the health of one third of the population that are medical card holders,” said Mr Hourihan
The IDA said the cuts represented an 80% reduction in monthly income for dentists with a high reliance on the medical card scheme and warned that a “significant” number of dental practices were at risk.
Mr Hourihan said practices that used to see between 15 to 20 medical card patients every day were now only seeing two to three.
Labour’s health spokesperson Jan O’Sullivan said it appeared that a “balancing of books” had completely taken over the needs of patients. She believed the circular should be withdrawn, with proper engagement by both sides on the needs of patients.
Fianna Fáil TD Charlie O’Connor said dentists had complained to him about the lack of consultation on the issue.
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