Democrats, health care advocates speak out against Ky. Medicaid cuts

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Dental and vision benefits for some Kentucky Medicaid recipients have been suspended, after a federal judge blocked Governor Matt Bevin's plan to impose a Medicaid work requirement.

Now some Democrats and health care advocates are speaking out against the move. Using a health care clinic that serves the homeless and those with low-incomes, they called the decision to suspend the benefits "rash" and "harsh."

Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer was among the Democrats calling the decision “unnecessary and callous."

The decision will affect roughly a half-million people across the state who received Medicaid coverage under the Affordable Care Act. The Cabinet for Health and Family Services says since it cannot go forward with a work requirement for dental and vision, they are now cutting those benefits to save money. But former State Auditor Adam Edelen said in the long term, it’s cheaper to have people insured, not uninsured.

Kentucky Third District Rep. John Yarmuth the cuts will hurt Kentucky, and it will hurt Louisville.

"We've got to be very vigilant. We've got to have the public rise up. This is going to be extremely damaging again for the citizens of the Commonwealth of Kentucky. In this community, it could mean the loss of health care coverage for as many as 80,000 people. That would be disastrous for us," Yarmuth said.

Metro Council President David James says people to be without healthcare is a death sentence. "This is unacceptable. It's unjust. It's not compassionate. And it's not the way we should treat the citizens of Kentucky and the citizens of Louisville," he said.

State Senator Gerald Neal plans to file a bill requiring that people on Medicaid receive dental and vision benefits.

State Rep. Joni Jenkins says she is drafting a letter to CFHS Secretary Adam Meier demanding answers to questions about the decision.

There are also early rumblings about a possible lawsuit challenging the decision to cut benefits.

At the Shawnee Christian Health Center, half of its one thousand dental patients are on the expanded Medicaid program, and have now lost both dental and vision coverage.

The clinic is scrambling to help patients understand what the cuts mean for them.

“We're really unsure, too,” said dental clinic director Jennifer Hasch. “But that we're here to help them navigate this process.”

The clinic is concerned that frustrated patients will just give up.

“Those unmet oral health needs will affect diabetes, hypertension, and other issues that our patients have,” said Shawnee Health Center CEO Phyllis Platt.

The Shawnee dental clinic opened in January of 2017, and relies on Medicaid dollars. Platt said restoring the cuts is a matter of both patient health and the clinic’s survival.

“It will be something that we'll have to start looking at today, going forward,” she said. “What is our staffing? What are we going to be able to do in terms of staying open?”

An appeal of the judge's decision is likely. The cabinet said it is working with federal officials on a solution.

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