Democratic leaders gathered at the Pikeville Public Library Tuesday for an event hosted by local representatives Chris Harris and Angie Hatton to address dental and vision cuts made by the Bevin administration.
Harris said Tuesday that nearly 500,000 people lost vision and dental benefits as the result of a federal judge ruling against Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin’s proposed Medicaid changes.
“Just in my house district alone, the 93rd House District, which is all of Martin County and most of Pike County, dental and vision benefits are being stripped from thousands of people, over 10,000 people in Pike and Martin Counties alone,” said Harris. “That’s about 15 percent of the population of those two counties that will now be without dental or vision coverage.”
Medicaid cuts will actually cost more than they save
Harris said not only is eliminating those benefits harmful to those who will no longer have them, but he said it will also mean more cost for taxpayers than it will save the state.
“The governor knows this, yet he continues along this path,” said Harris. “The truth is, eliminating oral health services for Kentucky’s working families who qualify for expanded Medicaid coverage amounts to a 1 percent savings in the expanded Medicaid budget.”
Harris said those patients, without benefits, will now be treated in a hospital emergency room as opposed to a dental office, which he said costs three times more. Harris said by treating oral patients in an emergency room, as opposed to a dental office, it will only add to the opioid crisis the state faces.
“Hospital emergency rooms don’t treat the underlying problem, what they do instead is they treat the patients pain that they’re in with more opioids, or more pain medicine,” he said.
Harris said another important cut that will effect many in Eastern Kentucky is nonemergency medical transportation services.
“It’s estimated that about 43,000 people of the nearly 500,000 Kentuckians impacted by this decision don’t have access to a car. They can’t get to the doctor to get the services they need,” said Harris. “This may not be a big issue in more urban areas that have public transportation, but here in Appalachia, in rural districts … many are dependent on these non-emergency medical transportation services.”
Medicaid cuts will hurt the economy
Another topic representatives discussed Tuesday were the economic repercussions of the cuts. Rep. Hatton said job creation in Kentucky requires making sure citizens are healthy enough to take those jobs being created. She said expanded Medicaid coverage in Kentucky not only allowed people to be healthy enough for work, but also created jobs across the state. Hatton said the expanded coverage added $3.5 billion to the state’s economy.
“People, these are jobs. Keeping clinics open saves and creates jobs,” she said. “The Affordable Care Act, in one clinic system in my counties, was able to hire over 100 people. They expanded dental coverage, they expanded mental health services and they expanded drug treatment programs that were available for the very first time, to a population that (contains) some of the unhealthiest people in the world.”
Hatton said there was no warning that the cuts were coming. She said the act of cutting those benefits seemed “spiteful” and “immorally wrong.”
Appointments cancelled as a result of Medicaid cuts
Pikeville Dentist William “Bill” Collins, DMD, outgoing president of the Kentucky Dental Association, said Tuesday that an oral surgeon he is acquainted with had to cancel six operations in the first week of the Medicaid cuts. He said another oral surgeon he knows has canceled more than 200 appointments as of Tuesday morning.
“Medicaid should not be a way of life, I do agree with that, but as a way out of poverty by increasing their quality of life,” said Collins. “It should not be used as a hand out, but as a hand up.”
Democratic legislators act
Rep. Rocky Adkins of the 99th district said a letter was sent to the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services to find out how and why dental and vision benefits were cut. According to a statement released Tuesday, all 37 house Democrats signed the letter which was initiated by state representatives Joni Jenkins and McKenzie Cantrell of Louisville. In the letter, representatives ask about the process used to remove benefits; how the new benefit structure is affecting recipients and providers; the expected impact of removing dental and vision benefits; and how premiums already collected will be returned, the statement said.
Harris, Hatton, Adkins and Collins were joined by former state auditor Adam Edelen and state representative candidates Ryan Mosley and Craig Lindon at Tuesday’s event.
Written by Josh Little. Cross-posted with permission
from the Appalachian News-Express via the Kentucky Press News Service.