NSW’s peak GLBT health and HIV/AIDS body has criticised federal Government plans to wind up the Chronic Disease Dental Scheme. Nine out of 10 people with HIV develop oral health issues linked to the virus.

ACON CEO Nicolas Parkhill (pictured) told the Star Observer he was disappointed that a scheme that had offered significant benefits to HIV positive people was being closed without a viable alternative on offer.

“We do understand that the scheme encountered significant cost blow-outs, however, there were options available that might have offered some solutions — including means testing — which the Government was not willing to consider,” he said.

Parkhill said the scheme had enabled significant numbers of HIV positive people to access the standard of dental care that most Australians take for granted — in many cases, for the first time in several years.

“HIV can have a significant impact on oral health but private dental care is often unaffordable for HIV positive people — including many who work — and dental care is frequently deferred or put off as a result, thus compounding existing problems,” Parkhill said.

“HIV positive people with healthcare cards can access a public dental system that is chronically underfunded and straining under the demands placed upon it. Being returned to the back of that queue is hardly a viable solution and we look forward to further initiatives that might offer a more effective and sustainable response.”

Parkhill encouraged any HIV positive person who was currently participating in the program to have all necessary referrals, assessments, dental care, denture care, checks, cleans and other work attended to by December 31.

A Department of Health and Ageing spokeswoman said it had been longstanding policy to replace the scheme.

“The Government contends that the scheme is flawed and allows millionaires to receive more than $4000 worth of dental treatment but not provide a simple check-up for pensioners,” she said.

She said Medicare had identified potentially incorrect claims on the scheme worth $13.2 million.

The Government boosted funding in this year’s budget by $53.1 million, and an advisory council will be established to advise the Government on the best way forward for dental health.

The Rudd Labor Government’s earlier attempt to close the scheme was blocked in the Senate by the Greens and Opposition.

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