Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear to expand Medicaid coverage to dental, vision and hearing care

Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear help a COVID-19 Memorial Ceremony, for the 10,000 lives lost, on Sunday the 14th at the Capitol.  Nov. 14, 2021
Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear help a COVID-19 Memorial Ceremony, for the 10,000 lives lost, on Sunday the 14th at the Capitol. Nov. 14, 2021

Gov. Andy Beshear announced Thursday his administration will expand Medicaid coverage for dental, vision and hearing care in Kentucky, touting it as a way to improve people's lives and boost workforce participation.

The expansion, which will go into effect Jan. 1, will apply to the nearly 900,000 adults who are enrolled in the state's Medicaid program — individuals with an annual income below $18,700 and families of four with an income under $38,200.

Children enrolled in Medicaid already have dental, vision and hearing services covered under the federal program.

Announcing the plan at his press conference, Beshear said these adults could not afford health care without Medicaid, "and certainly can't afford these other services."

While the state's unemployment rate is low, Beshear said several factors are keeping people out of the workforce, such as lack of affordable child care, addiction, incarceration — and poor health.

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Beshear said improving the health outcomes of Kentuckians is more than just the right or moral thing to do, but also "a barrier that we must address if we want Medicaid to be temporary, if we want to get people back to work in these good paying jobs."

"One of the major obstacles in getting some people into the workforce is they're simply not healthy enough to do it," Beshear said, noting almost 100 million work hours are lost annually in the United States due to emergency dental care, with dental pain also a common trigger for addiction to opioids.

A Beshear spokeswoman said Kentucky Medicaid's dental services will now provide adult coverage for dentures, implants, a second annual cleaning and root canals, in addition to extractions, restorations and periodontics.

The governor also said the expansion in care would reduce cost barriers for eyewear and hearing aids, saying the latter has been shown to reduce dementia, depression, anxiety "and other conditions that may result in someone going on disability."

As for the cost of the expanded coverage, Beshear said the "vast majority" would be paid by the federal government, while "the rest of it can be absorbed in our Medicaid budget, which is healthy."

"It will have no significant impact on Kentucky's budget," Beshear said. "It will require no changes to our budget in this next session. In other words, it is easily affordable, which means we absolutely should do it."

Susan Dunlap, the Cabinet for Health and Family Services spokeswoman, said federal funds would cover 90% of the estimated $36 million annual cost for the expansion, with the state covering the rest.

Dunlap added that the state's move to one pharmacy benefit manager last year "has resulted in significant ongoing savings to the Medicaid program that will provide enough funding for this program moving forward."

Ben Chandler, the CEO of the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky, lauded the governor's announced expansion, saying "data shows that when you work, you've got a much better chance of having good health. So it's a circular thing."

A spokeswoman for House Republicans and the chair of the Senate Budget committee did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Reach reporter Joe Sonka at jsonka@courierjournal.com and follow him on Twitter at @joesonka.

This article originally appeared on Louisville Courier Journal: Beshear to expand Medicaid coverage to dental, vision and hearing care