Date: May 02 2012
Official demands on 65 dentists to repay $21 million for Medicare breaches have turned into a bureaucratic quagmire, with the federal government revealing it has received contradictory legal advice on the issue.
The government told a Senate committee yesterday it was rethinking its action after new legal advice. 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 to the government on this long-running issue.
Earlier advice had said they could be counselled.
The latest development follows many dentists' refusal to comply with government demands to repay a total of more $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 of hundreds more facing claims for repayment under the current approach.
An associate secretary at the Department of Human Services, Ben Rimmer, told the Senate's Finance and Public Administration Committee that officials had previously exercised discretion in taking an ''educative approach'' towards dentists found to be non-compliant. Dr Rimmer said that subsequent legal advice had shown that those found to be non-compliant had incurred a debt which 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.
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.
The government has sought to close the Medicare dental scheme which has now cost about $2.3 billion since it was established in 2007.
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