FRANKFORT, Ky. (WDRB) -- Gov. Matt Bevin's administration has restored dental and vision coverage to more than 300,000 Kentuckians on Medicaid less than three weeks after it cut them.
Kristi Putnam, deputy director of the Cabinet for Health and Family Services, said the confusion surrounding Kentucky’s Medicaid program is a result of a judge’s ruling that halted planned changes to the program less than two days before they were to be implemented.
“The judge’s ruling came a very late hour for us,” Putnam said. “It's not possible to just flip a switch on and off.”
The state had been working for months to implement a new program called Kentucky HEALTH that requires some able-bodied Medicaid recipients to earn dental and vision coverage through working, volunteering or receiving job training.
Putnam said trying to quickly roll back those changes was a technical and communications nightmare.
“To make a change, a big system change as that would have needed that late in the game over a very short period of time, would have been risky,” she said.
Putnam said rather than risk problems with the entire Medicaid system, the cabinet decided to suspend dental and vision benefits and work with the federal government to tweak the program to comply with the judge's ruling.
But Putnam said the cabinet soon realized the process would take longer than expected.
“When it became evident that we were going to have a further delay, and there would be additional time where individuals would have a gap in service, we wanted to make sure that we were able to turn things back on and restore those benefits,” she said.
Democrats and public health advocates had blasted the administration for cutting benefits in the first place.
“I'm very disappointed that the governor would take not only such a rash step but a harsh step,” said Democratic Sen. Gerald Neal of Louisville during a July 2 news conference.
Putnam insisted that the cuts were not meant to be malicious.
“It was never our intention to appear harsh," Putnam said. "Of course, there are those who may differ with that. But I can assert that everyone on our team is very concerned, first and foremost, with our beneficiaries and with making sure that Kentucky achieves different health outcomes.”
Putnam said the goal remains implementation of what she called “community engagement” for some dental and vision benefits.
The timing of the change remains uncertain since the federal government has decided to hold a new 30-day comment and evaluation period on the proposal.
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