No Dental Care

A Project for Free Dentistry Has Been Postponed Indefinitely Due to the Financial Troubles at the Viennese Health Insurance Fund

Thousands of Viennese homeless remain without dental care – victims of changes in the Wiener Gebietskrankenkasse’s (WGKK) – Viennese Health Insurance Fund funding plans that has meant the halting of an ambitious non-profit project to serve the disadvantaged.

The program, an effort of the non-profit association „neunerHaus“ had seemed virtually certain as recently as a year ago; a location had already been selected in the association’s headquarters in Stumpergasse in Vienna’s 7th District of Mariahilf. The project is now effectively closed, and for Vienna’s estimated 5,500 homeless there will be no dental clinic or services there in the near future.

“Regrettably, we can’t help the homeless at the moment,“ president of “neunerHaus“ Markus Reiter said in an interview.

Since March 2006, the project „Team neunerHausarzt“ had been providing medical services for the residents in the Viennese homeless shelters. After the venture’s success, the supporters (with 30% co-financing from the City of Vienna and 50% from the WGKK) approached neunerHaus, offering their services for the dentist project. However the precarious state of the WGKK – with a budget deficit of €140.6 mio. last year – will no longer allow new special contracts, such as would be mandatory under the WGKK’s allocation structure.

Should an arrangement be possible in the near future, a special fund would be necessary, as even though 70 percent of Vienna’s derelicts have an E-Card entitling them to services under the national health program, they can’t afford the high co-pays required for cosmetic surgery to provide crowns, dentures and the like.

Until recently a retired woman dentist had been providing voluntary care  to the homeless, but her death in 2007 has ended even this initiative.

According to Reiter, the demand is real – in the process of reintegration into the workforce, particularly when searching for a job, appearance is an essential factor. In addition, diseased, rotten teeth prevent many homeless people from being able to chew solid food sufficiently, what in certain cases leads to strains of the gastrointestinal tract and subsequently to gastric ulcers.

„We want to give a smile,“ is one of the association’s slogans. However some at neunerHaus don’t even feel like smiling themselves anymore.

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