Politics & Government

In a surprise move, state restores dental, vision coverage for Medicaid recipients

Gov. Matt Bevin’s administration reinstated vision and dental coverage, as well as non-emergency transportation services, Thursday to nearly 400,000 Medicaid recipients.

The state had made the cuts in coverage July 1 after a federal judge in Washington, D.C., struck down Bevin’s plan to require some Medicaid recipients to work or volunteer in order to continue receiving benefits.

The federal ruling blocked Bevin from implementing an overhaul of the health insurance program for the poor and disabled.

A release Thursday from the state Cabinet for Health and Family Services announced the renewed coverage, saying it would pay claims made by any eligible Medicaid recipient incurred during July.

Jason Bailey, with the Kentucky Center for Economic Policy, said, “The two weeks that they eliminated dental and vision coverage is a glimpse of what will happen” if the Bevin administration is successful in eventually getting a federal Medicaid waiver to implement its program.

“The governor and his administration were wrong to blame this cruel action on the federal court ruling that blocked this waiver, but I’m glad they appear to be back on the right track,” said House Minority Leader Rocky Adkins, D-Sandy Hook. Adkins was one of several Democratic legislators who spoke out against the cuts.

“I’m hopeful that our citizens will not be faced with the devastation of losing these benefits again,” he added.

State health advocate Sheila Schuster succinctly said, “Hooray.”

The cuts created much confusion and consternation for patients and health care providers.

The state release said the administration had hoped for a quick federal re-approval that would allow the “transformative” Bevin program — known as Kentucky HEALTH — to start Aug. 1.

It said Kentucky has been working with the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services on details on getting a re-approval, including the status of dental and vision benefits.

The state has “received updated guidance that CMS will hold a 30-day federal comment and evaluation period, making it clear that the program will not begin as soon as we hoped.”

“In order to mitigate the consequences of the judge’s ruling and avoid a prolonged coverage gap prior to the re-approval of Kentucky HEALTH, we have begun the process to reinstate vision and dental coverage, as well as non-emergency transportation services, for those whose benefits were affected by the June 29 court action.”

The state cabinet said “changing benefits and coverage is not as easy as flipping a single switch.”

It said it has “spent the last few weeks working on a temporary solution for restored benefits to be implemented by Aug. 1.”

Bevin had initiated the new program, saying the former program was too expensive to continue. He sought federal permission to change the rules.

Critics have questioned the legality of Bevin’s initiative, saying the state failed to provide enough time for public comments on the changes and did not follow the federal government’s reporting requirements. Democratic lawmakers have criticized the moral and economic impacts of the program, saying it strips health care benefits from working families and could hurt the state’s economy, particularly in Eastern Kentucky.