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Beshear vetoes bill that would end new dental, hearing, vision care for 900,000 Kentuckians

By: - March 27, 2023 10:41 am

Gov. Andy Beshear has vetoed a bill that would rescind new Medicaid benefits for dental, hearing and vision care. (Getty Images)

Stressing workforce development, Gov. Andy Beshear vetoed a bill that would end new Medicaid benefits for dental, hearing and vision care for 900,000 Kentuckians.

Senate Bill 65 will harm Kentuckians and frustrate efforts to increase Kentucky’s workforce,” Beshear said in his veto message issued Friday.

Beshear expanded Medicaid coverage last fall through an administrative regulation that the legislature rejected during this regular session. 

In his veto message, Beshear said research shows almost 100 million work hours are lost each year in the U.S. “because of emergency dental care, with poor oral health being the leading cause. Regular preventative dental care and expanded Medicaid dental benefits prevent that loss of productivity.”

Beshear said research also shows that coverage of vision services increases the likelihood of working full-time. He said 16% of Kentuckians have some degree of hearing loss. 

“Since the regulation, more than 1,000 Kentuckians in all 120 counties have received nearly 3,300 dental services, including from a dentist in Clay County who, since January 1, 2023, has provided four sets of dentures for patients and has 44 more sets of dentures in progress. Nearly 7,000 Kentuckians have received vision services under these regulations with nearly 43,000 services provided. And 40 Kentuckinas have received hearing services with these regulations in place,” Beshear said. 

Beshear also said the bill violates the constitutional separation of powers. 

Health advocates are calling for the new benefits to be continued, as Melissa Patrick of Kentucky Health News reported last week

Before Beshear’s expansion, Medicaid covered dental extractions under certain conditions and an annual cleaning. Adult fillings were not covered. The expansion allowed coverage for fillings, dentures, implants, root canals, extractions, restorations, periodontics and an additional cleaning each year. Also, under the old rules, a Medicaid enrollee could be evaluated for hearing loss only on referral from a primary-care doctor. Glasses and contact lenses were not covered, though exams were.

The federal government would pay 90% of the cost of the new services; the rest was to come from savings achieved by the state’s switch last year to one Medicaid pharmacy benefits manager. SB 65’s sponsor, Sen. Steven West, R-Paris, said using the $38 million in savings amounted to an appropriation and should have been done through statute by the legislature.

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