Some 500,000 self-employed people will be able to access free dental benefits for the first time this week, as the Department of Social Protection introduces a measure signalled in last October’s budget.
The move means that the self-employed, farmers and their dependent spouses, who were previously excluded from receiving a free annual check-up with their dentist or a free eye check, on the grounds that they paid a different category of PRSI, will now be entitled to it.
Dentists who operate the scheme have received letters from the department informing them of the extension of the scheme to the self-employed.
Minister for Social Protection Leo Varadkar signed the enabling legislation last week, and the scheme is due to commence from this week, March 27th, but the department had no clarity on the exact date on Monday.
Dr Tom Rodgers, chair of the Irish Dental Association (IDA) General Dental Practitioner group, welcomed the move.
“It is a small but welcome first step in restoring State supports towards the costs of dental treatment previously available under the PRSI dental scheme,” he said.
The Government also signalled in last October’s budget the re-introduction of an annual scale and polish treatment, which was discontinued in 2010, and protracted periodontal treatment, where this is clinically required.
Since 2010, it has been estimated that some € 500 million worth of cuts have been made to free dental benefits, as subsidies for cleaning, fillings, root canal treatments and other preventative and treatment works were abolished.
Speaking in the Dáil last week, Mr Varadkar said the re-introduction of the free annual scale and polish and protracted periodontal treatment will occur from October 2017.
However, it’s not yet clear whether the Government has worked out the details of this with dentists.
According to Dr Rodgers, the funding now being made available by the State “is still only a fraction of the amount cut since 2009”.
“IDA has committed to further engagement with the department on other changes to the scheme and is calling on the Government to restore further treatments on a grant in aid basis in the 2018 Budget,” he said.