Greens press for dental boost in return for rebate support
The Greens want a boost to dental care or they may block a key measure in the government's private health insurance rebate bill. Photo: Quentin Jones
The Gillard government is under pressure from the Greens to boost public dental services or lose an integral part of its health insurance savings measures.
The Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, yesterday sought to reassure the Greens that she wanted to meet their demands for more services for the hundreds of thousands of Australians she acknowledged were suffering because they could not afford dental care.
Her comments to Parliament came within hours of a meeting between the Greens and the Coalition yesterday to consider blocking the government's proposed expansion of the Medicare levy surcharge. That measure, if introduced, would mean high income earners who do not take out health insurance would face progressive hikes in the levy from 1 per cent to 1.5 per cent of income depending on income level.
While supporting the means test, which will withdraw the 30 per cent rebate for high income earners, the Greens argue the surcharge component is inequitable, giving an exemption to high income earners particularly when health insurance subsidies benefit the well-off while low-income earners cannot afford dental care.
The government argues that the surcharge provides a "stick" forcing high earners to retain insurance despite losing the rebate and that to drop it would mean 70,000 to 100,000 would abandon health insurance.
The Greens, with potential Coalition support, is pressing for the government to split the legislation so that it can support the means test but block the surcharge — a tactic the government is resisting.
The Coalition opposes both the means test and surcharge measure outright and with the Greens has the numbers in the Senate to defeat the government.
Greens health spokeman Richard Di Natale said taxpayers without health insurance "are cross-subsidising dental care for those who do have insurance. This legislation makes that worse."
Greens MP Adam Bandt yesterday asked Ms Gillard whether the government would stand by its commitment to start putting dental services under Medicare, given Australia was a wealthy country and an estimated 500,000 people were on dental waiting lists.
Ms Gillard said she shared his concerns. "I think all of us in this chamber know . . . how expensive it can be to go to the dentist, and we know that there are hundreds of thousands of Australians who find themselves unable to meet the cost, with all of the pain and the degeneration of their teeth that that can cause for them."
She said she wanted to do more and would soon receive the final report of an advisory council on the issue. But the government would have to weigh up the cost in the budget and "make the appropriate fiscal decisions for the nation".
Follow the National Times on Twitter: @NationalTimesAU
Poll: Should the private health insurance rebate be subject to a means test?
- Not sure
Total votes: 6371.
You will need Cookies enabled to use our Voting Feature.
Poll closed 10 Feb, 2012
These polls are not scientific and reflect the opinion only of visitors who have chosen to participate.