LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - Gov. Matt Bevin's administration has cut dental and vision benefits for some Medicaid recipients.
At an event Monday organized to speak out against the changes, Kentucky Democrats noted the importance of dental coverage in relation to overall health. They said the battle they're fighting to preserve Medicaid expansion is going to be a long one.
For some at the Phoenix Health Center, Monday morning was going to be a celebration, after a federal court blocked the Bevin administration's request to require able-bodied people to get a job, schooling or volunteer to keep their Medicaid benefits.
But then they got blindsided.
"(By) the unexpected and abrupt decision to end dental and vision coverage," State Rep. Joni Jenkins (D-Shively) explained.
The Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services (CHFS) announced it will no longer provide dental and vision care to people with extended Medicaid coverage through Kentucky HEALTH My Rewards Accounts, effective July 1.
Proponents of the idea said the move is necessary to balance costs after a judge struck down Bevin's Medicaid Expansion Plan, but others claim it's dangerous.
"When Kentucky HEALTH was invalidated by the court, the My Rewards program was eliminated, and there is no longer a funding mechanism in place to pay for dental and vision services," a CHFS press release stated Monday. "We hope that we can work together to quickly resolve the fallout from the court ruling, so that the My Rewards program can be reinstated."
U.S. Rep. John Yarmuth (D-Kentucky) voiced his concerns about the change Monday.
"We don't think that's legal either," Yarmuth said. "We don't think he can do that."
Yarmuth said he believes the recent moves are part of a long-term strategy by the governor to stop Medicaid expansion in the state.
"Bevin was trying to do that to force CMS (Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services) to reject the waiver," Yarmuth said. "So, then, fulfill his campaign promise and take health coverage away."
CHFS leaders said the court decision forced them to compensate for the increasing costs of Medicaid expansion, but Democratic leaders said they believe a loss of federal funds and increased emergency room visits by those without coverage will only make health care more expensive for the state.
Cabinet officials also cite that less than 10 percent of Medicaid beneficiaries use dental and vision services.
A Shawnee Christian Healthcare Center (SCHC) dental manager said 17 out of 19 of the patients scheduled Monday used Medicaid at the clinic.
"Shawnee Christian Healthcare Center also falls into those federal guidelines, which means we cannot turn away based on inability to pay," Jennifer Hasch, the Dental Hygiene Program Manager at SCHC, said.
Hasch said they're not canceling visits yet, as others at the Monday morning press conference point out it's still unclear how providers will pay for them heading into the coming days.
Kentucky Democrats said they believe the loss of dental and vision coverage will have to be decided by the courts again, similar to the work requirement waiver.
Leaders in the Kentucky state legislature -- Sen. Gerald Neal, (D-Louisville) and Sen. Morgan McGarvey, (D-Louisville) -- said they're drafting a bill to ensure those specific types of coverage will be afforded to all using Kentucky's Medicaid program after the next legislative session.