Medicare-funded dental care for people with HIV, raised in November to $4,250 per person over two years, is to be scrapped, possibly as soon as the 13 May budget.

Labor voted against the increase last year, and has vowed to dump the Howard government’s $377 million Chronic Disease Scheme.

The scheme allows people with complex conditions to receive bulk-billed treatment at private dental clinics without waiting lists, and under the protection of the Medicare Safety Net.

Health Minister Nicola Roxon plans to use the savings to fund a $290 million program to reduce general waiting times in state-run public clinics starting from 1 July.

Russell Westacott, ACON Director of Client Services, encouraged people with HIV to take advantage of the generous current scheme while it was still available.

“The amount of $4,250 could make an astounding improvement for many in the HIV community,” Westacott said.

Nine in 10 people with HIV have an oral condition at some stage while infected, and poor oral health can exacerbate other HIV conditions, he said.

Public clinics in regional and rural areas were virtually nonexistent and the few city clinics had waiting lists extending into years.

Dr Adam Alford from the MLC Centre Dental Surgery often gets clients referred by ACON and the Bobby Goldsmith Foundation, but said for a person to qualify for the current Medicare rebates their GP has to first create a team care plan.

“It’s gum treatment or dentures mostly; that fits under the program easily. But a lot of dentists aren’t actually supporting the program,” Alford said.

Medical clinics in the city with lots of HIV-positive patients were likely to know dentists who were HIV-friendly and would support the program, Westacott said.

The Enhanced Primary Care dental scheme for people with chronic and complex conditions was first introduced by the Howard government in 2004, starting with a maximum rebate of $220 per year – less than the average hourly rate.

Roxon called it a failure because only $1.6 million of the allocated $377 million was spent.

“The current scheme has only been in place for eight weeks, not enough to determine how many people would benefit,” Westacott said.

The Government has been looking to make cuts to the 2008/09 budget starting with late promises by the Howard government.

A spokesman for Roxon said Medicare programs, except the dental scheme, were safe from cuts at this time.

ACON plans to release an issues pack on HIV and dental services on its website later this month.

AFAO has further information on the program at www.afao.org.au/library_docs/policy/Dental_Treatment_14Nov_07.pdf or phone ACON on 9206 2000.

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