Five dentists earned €300,000 each in fees from taxpayer
Five dentists earned more than €300,000 each for treating medical card holders last year, new figures reveal.
The State payouts to 805 dentists exceeded €59m in total -- despite claims by dentists, in recent years, that the scheme did not pay enough.
Another 20 dentists earned over €200,000 in gross payments, according to Health Service Executive figures obtained by the Irish Independent.
The payments list shows that hundreds more earned over €100,000, although the lowest payments were less than €800.
Dentists are free to top up their income with private fees, which were recently said to be 30pc higher than those charged in Northern Ireland.
The profession has come in for strong criticism for high prices, which have led to people going to the North or as far eastern Europe for treatment.
Last week, dentists claimed large numbers who travelled abroad were seeking treatment here after botched work.
Asked to comment last night, Fintan Hourihan, chief executive of the Irish Dental Association, said the €59m paid to dentists equated to approximately €60 per medical card holder in the country.
"It must be borne in mind that these figures represent the total costs paid under the medical card schemes for materials and services," he added.
Mr Hourihan said dentists had to pay operating costs including "staff, utility bills, equipment, insurances and other fees".
"On average, general dental practitioners employ four full-time staff and three part-time staff," he added.
Unlike GPs, who receive an annual capitation fee for each patient, regardless of how often they visit the surgery, the dentist only gets paid after dental work has been done.
Around 600 dentists left the medical card scheme in recent years because they were dissatisfied with the fees offered, and some patients have long distances to travel to see a dentist.
But there is now evidence of a drift back to the scheme as the payments represent guaranteed income.
"The dentists fee is made up of half for materials and half for the work done. Like other professionals doing state work, they have seen an 8pc reduction in fees," according to Mr Hourihan.
"It would be wrong to say they have not been affected by the downturn. Nobody can convince me they are making excessive profits," he said.
His organisation disputes figures stating that there is a 30pc difference in prices between here and in the North, and Mr Hourihan insisted that the gap related more to expensive than routine treatments.
The Irish Dental Association will meet Social and Family Affairs Minister Mary Hanafin in two weeks to ask her not to abolish the PRSI dental treatment scheme -- as suggested in Colm McCarthy's 'Bord Snip' report.
"Workers on the average industrial wage contribute €20 a week in PRSI contributions, while higher earners contribute up to €53 a week towards dental and other benefits," according to Mr Hourihan.