By Gav Ross
DANIELLE Casbolt’s teeth are crumbling, and the impending closure of a Medicare dental scheme she and her family has relied on for five years is set to worsen the situation. The 35 year-old Corinella resident has suffered from mental illness for the majority of her life and is required to take medication daily that has an adverse effect on her bones and teeth. Frequent dental appointments have become the norm for Danielle and she estimates she has sat in the dentist’s chair “dozens” of times over the last few years alone. Danielle has received countless fillings and had five molars removed as her teeth continue to become more brittle as time goes on. Living at home and cared for by her parents, Danielle is unable to work and is supported by a disability pension. Admitting that she has always struggled to cover her dental bills, Danielle has been assisted by the Medicare Chronic Dental Health Scheme – an initiative introduced by the Howard Government that has allowed patients with chronic illnesses to receive Medicare rebates, totalling $4250 every two years, for dental work. Closure of the scheme, which has cost the Commonwealth $1 billion per year, was announced by Federal health minister, Tanya Plibersek, in late August in lieu of the current Labor Government’s $4 billion proposed dental package, which aims to help low-income earners receive faster treatment through the public dental system. Unfortunately for sufferers like Danielle, a replacement scheme isn’t scheduled to come into effect until mid-2014, leaving her facing an 18-month wait where her only options are to pay for dental visits in full or be placed on the strained public waiting list. Danielle desperately wants to retain the teeth she has left and is frightened that more than a year of limited dental visits will result in more teeth being pulled and the eventual need for dentures. “I want to keep my real teeth as long as I can,” Danielle said, adding that root-canal treatment to save some of her teeth has been cost-prohibitive, even with the Medicare scheme in place. And she stressed that it wasn’t all about her. Danielle is a member of Wonthaggi’s Mental Illness Fellowship – a support group whose members regularly meet up for activities and encouragement. She said she knows of three others in the group who are on similar antipsychotic medication and suffer from constant dental issues. “A lot of them are renting and all their money goes straight to rent and food,” Danielle said. “They can’t afford to see the dentist.” Danielle’s mother, Carol, noted that her daughter was in a better position than some as she still lived at home. “But if she was able to have regular check-ups, hopefully her teeth wouldn’t get to the point of needing so much work done,” Carol said. Danielle’s father, Richard, said “it’s not just about Danielle – other people are falling through the cracks.” While admitting paying for further treatment for their daughter will prove difficult, Danielle’s parents said they’ll simply “find a way”. The Casbolts wrote to Flinders MP Greg Hunt about their plight in September, who acknowledged the issue by sending a return letter within days and speaking about the closure of the scheme in Parliament. “We are about to face a major human impact where real people will suffer real consequences as a result of what is effectively the creation of an 18-month gap for many Australians who suffered deep, chronic pain and from deep, chronic dental issues,” Mr Hunt said in his recent speech. “Tearing away the current support mechanisms will mean real failures for families, pensioners, seniors and young people. “It is simply not good enough to deny local residents access to genuinely needed, vital dental treatment.” “The story of Danielle, the story of Richard and Carol Casbolt, her parents, is the human face of what this package of measures will lead to as an unintended but, sadly, inevitable consequence.” Further into his speech, Mr Hunt said the new $4.1 billion dental package proposed by the Gillard Government “may serve some useful purposes”, but that it is also unfunded. “So it is a promise made without an ability to pay,” he said.