Op-Ed

Vision, dental benefits must be essential for unhealthy Kentuckians

Major Brett Ringger set up to examine Isaac Dunn, 9, of Morgan County while his sister Mercedes Dunn, 3, watched at the Lee County High School in June. Health services were offered as part of a military training mission to practice medical set up for times of emergency, conflict or disaster.
Major Brett Ringger set up to examine Isaac Dunn, 9, of Morgan County while his sister Mercedes Dunn, 3, watched at the Lee County High School in June. Health services were offered as part of a military training mission to practice medical set up for times of emergency, conflict or disaster. swalker@herald-leader.com

After Gov. Matt Bevin’s attempt to impose work requirements on the joint state and federal health insurance program for the poor and disabled was blocked by U.S. District Court Judge James Boasberg, there was swift retaliation.

Under Bevin’s previous Medicaid plan, many enrollees would have had to enroll in classes or actively search for work, not only to be eligible to receive health insurance, but also to secure vision and dental benefits. Now that the proposal has been rejected, the administration is now abolishing vision and dental coverage, leaving half a million Kentucky residents without essential preventative care.

“This is an unfortunate consequence of the judge’s ruling,” Doug Hogan, a spokesman for the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services, stated. “Once we ultimately prevail in this legal challenge ... then beneficiaries will have access to these optional services.” Adam Meier, Bevin’s secretary of the Cabinet for Health and Family Services, has also said that if the ruling stands, the state would have “no choice but to make significant benefit reductions.”

Many Democrats have called Bevin’s administration’s latest actions likely illegal. Not only is it likely unlawful, but revoking vision and dental benefits from people who need them the most, as a bargaining tool or threat, can be harmful.

Vision and dental benefits are not just optional, they are crucial components of proper health care. Kentucky is a state known for dismal oral health and is one of states with the highest rates of mouth cancer. About 25 percenrt of adults over the age of 65 in the state have had all of their teeth extracted.

Without preventative dental care, patients may ignore their gingivitis, or gum disease, leading to bleeding gums, painful chewing, potential heart disease, and loss of teeth.

Constant tooth pain can also quickly result in pain medication addiction, contributing to the state’s already critical opioid crisis.

Development of abscesses, or pockets of pus, around an infected tooth can cause a more serious consequence if the infection spreads to the airway, closing it off and causing suffocation. A tooth infection can even spread to different parts of the body including the blood, heart or brain, requiring hospitalization.

And it’s not only preemptive dental benefits that are necessary for well-being. Being unable to visit an eye care specialist when there is a need for corrective lenses can lead to eye strain and serious headaches. Poor eyesight can also be dangerous for driving a car or operating machinery.

Even a patient who presents for a routine vision exam for a renewed lens prescription can get diagnosed with giant papillary conjunctivitis, a common allergic reaction to chronic contact lens wear. If the infection is serious and not immediately treated, it can lead to permanent scarring and disfigurement of the eyelid.

So while Kentucky politicians continue to use medical care as a political football, the health and safety of half a million vulnerable Kentuckians remain hanging in the balance.

Karen Tran-Harding, M.D., of Lexington, specializes in diagnostic radiology.

  Comments