Kentucky editorial roundup
The Associated Press
Jul. 12, 2018
Summary of recent Kentucky newspaper editorials:
Lexington Herald-Leader on Gov. Matt Bevin's decision to end dental and vision coverage for 460,000 people over a federal judge's rejection of his Medicaid overhaul:
Gov. Matt Bevin's decision to end dental and vision coverage for 460,000 Kentuckians is vindictive, probably illegal and also illogical because emergency-room visits for dental problems will increase.
The administration's excuse — that a federal judge's rejection of Bevin's Medicaid revamp necessitates the action — is ridiculous. The new payment mechanism for dental and vision coverage was to take effect July 1. The obvious answer is to keep the system that was in place June 30.
In recent days, Bevin administration officials have said they can't say how much eliminating the dental and vision benefits would save or cost and that fewer than 10 percent of Medicaid recipients use those benefits.
From this we can deduce that Kentuckians are not abusing the benefits and must be using them when they really need them. Dental pain can be debilitating; trying to hold down a job when you have vision problems is difficult, if not impossible. One ostensible goal of Bevin's Medicaid revamp is to encourage more Kentuckians to work or perform community service. Taking away their dental and vision care undermines that goal.
Experience in other states tells us that ending Medicaid dental benefits forces people to seek care in emergency rooms, the most expensive place to treat them. Emergency rooms are not staffed or equipped to treat the causes of dental pain and, therefore, often just send patients home with a prescription for opioid painkillers.
About half the patients who went to the ER with non-traumatic dental pain from 2007 to 2010 received a prescription for opioid drugs, a much higher rate than for ER patients overall, according to a study published in 2015. We don't need to explain why our fellow Kentuckians are better off with a root canal than an OxyContin script.
After California Medicaid ended comprehensive adult dental coverage in 2009 in response to budget constraints, dental-related visits to emergency rooms increased by more than 1,800 a year for a 68 percent increase in dental ER costs. Maryland had a 22 percent increase in dental ER visits after ending Medicaid reimbursement to dentists for treating emergencies.
Bevin has given contradictory explanations for implementing new premiums, co-pays and work or community engagement requirements for some Medicaid recipients. His administration has argued that Kentucky can't afford to keep paying its share of the Medicaid expansion that was made possible by the Affordable Care Act so must shed an estimated 95,000 Medicaid recipients to save $330 million over five years. (What he doesn't mention: Kentucky would give up $2.1 billion in federal funds.)
Bevin also has said he doesn't know "nor do I really care" how much money his Medicaid changes would save.
As Nick Storm of Spectrum News reported, the Bevin administration cites paperwork that it quietly submitted on April 23, and which still has not received the necessary federal approval, to justify the cutoff. Bevin planned to convert dental and vision benefits to a "My Rewards Account" in which the 460,000 Kentuckians who received Medicaid through the ACA would earn those benefits through activities such as online classes.
But there's no reason — other than spite against the 15 individuals who successfully challenged the plan and the groups that supported them — that the changes in dental and vision benefits cannot be put on hold just as the rest of the revamp has been put on hold by U.S. District Judge James E. Boasberg's ruling last week. The judge found that federal officials failed to consider, as the law requires, the loss of health care coverage that Kentuckians would suffer as a result of Bevin's Medicaid proposal.
Kentucky will challenge his ruling, meaning the dispute will be tied up in court for a while. Ending dental and vision care serves no public health purpose and would cause a lot of pain.
The Daily Independent on the appointment of an interim president of Ashland Community and Technical College:
It sounds like Kentucky's Community College system leaders feel the same way we do when it comes to the future of Ashland Community and Technical College's leadership — stability is key.
This week the college system appointed an interim president of the college until a permanent president is hired this fall. Dennis Michaelis, a former president of McLennan Community College in Waco, Texas, takes the reins temporarily after the retirement of Kay Adkins, who finished up her tenure in June.
Michaelis will run the university during a national search that is expected to yield a permanent replacement by the first of October.
A new school year is approaching and the community college system across Kentucky is, in our view, facing turbulent times. There is a continued lack of clarity surrounding the state's pension crisis. The pension reform bill has been tossed out by the courts, and it is still not exactly clear what this means for our local colleges. The General Assembly and the state in its entirety obviously has a very poor track record of dealing with this issue — the college will need stable, courageous leadership for the future. All this points for the need for the college's board to make the right decision and find the best candidate possible — someone who holds at the qualifications and is committed to the area long-term.
Although we don't know Mr. Michaelis, Jay Box, president of the college system, does. We can thus assume that Box knows Michaelis has the experience necessary to lead the college while the search is completed. He previously served as interim president to Hopkinsville Community College and Southeast Kentucky CTC.
Finalists for the presidency will be announced later this month. Candidates have been vetted by a screening committee. Also reviewing candidate submissions are Box, two college presidents, the board chair and a search consultant. Candidates for interviews are chosen by Box in consultation with the board chair and finalists are chosen from among those.
We wish Mr. Michaelis the best and say welcome to Ashland. In the meantime the appointment gives the system's leader and the board the comfort of knowing they have the time to make the most informed decision possible in pursuit of a new leader over the long-term.
Bowling Green Daily News on Kentucky Attorney General Andy Beshear's announcement that he is running for governor:
It should have come as no surprise to anyone in Kentucky that Attorney General Andy Beshear announced Monday that he is running for governor.
Ever since Beshear, the son of former Gov. Steve Beshear, was elected attorney general by a margin of less than 1 percent of the vote in 2015, most people knew he had his eyes on the governor's mansion.
During his short time in office, Beshear can proudly say that he has focused on preventing child abuse, protecting the elderly from scams and combating the state's opioid epidemic. He has filed six lawsuits against opioid makers and distributors, including a suit last month against pharmacy giant Walgreens. Beshear, who also announced that former teacher and current Nelson County High School assistant principal Jacqueline Coleman will be his running mate, should be proud of these accomplishments.
Still, what most people best know Beshear for is his ongoing personal vendetta against Gov. Matt Bevin. Beshear, a Democrat, has filed lawsuit after lawsuit against Bevin, a Republican, and the GOP-controlled legislature since taking office. Beshesar is obviously within his rights to do so, but we believe these actions have been somewhat excessive.
He even filed one recently on the pension reform legislation that Bevin signed into law. For those who don't know, Kentucky has one of the most underfunded pension systems in the country. Unlike Beshear's father - who did nothing to deal with the unfunded pension system other than try for eight years to bring casinos to Kentucky to generate revenue - the Republicans started dealing with the problem. Sure, the solution was unpopular with many people, but it was clear that something needed to be done.
In his announcement Monday, Beshear trotted out the idea of casino gambling once again, which his father was unsuccessful in getting passed.
One question Beshear will surely be asked during the campaign is what he would do about pension reform. Will he produce more of the same can-kicking, or would reality push him to address the structure of the pension system for those entering it in the future?
We don't know, but he will have to answer that and other issues. He should also tell the people of this state whether he voted for former President Barack Obama. On several occasions, he has been asked by reporters, only to be silent. Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergran Grimes learned this lesson the hard way in 2014 when she ran for U.S. Senate and was trounced by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. Beshear would be wise to learn from her mistake if he plans to have a shot at winning.
Quite honestly, we believe the younger Beshear would be a rerun of his father's administration, if elected. Beshear, one of only two statewide Democratic office holders, might not be able to accomplish much unless the legislature is flipped in his party's favor.
Bevin, who hasn't announced if he's running for governor next year, has been a strong governor who has moved this state forward by getting right-to-work legislation passed, repealing the unfair prevailing wage law and trying to address pension reform. He has said some things, especially during the session, against teachers that we didn't like and we called him out on this opinion page about it.
If Bevin does seek re-election and Beshear is the Democratic nominee, it will be interesting to see these two men duke it out on the campaign trail. An incumbent governor who has shown from time to time that he is pretty thin-skinned and unnecessarily offends a lot of people facing off against an ambitious attorney general who hasn't hesitated to use his office to continue a political vendetta with roots in Bevin's and Steve Beshear's disdain for one another. It should be a most interesting race.