Opinion: Eastern Kentucky Needs Access to Care

I am not an eloquent writer, but I write from the heart with sincerity and compassion. As a dentist in Appalachia, many of the Medicaid expansion patients I treat are the working poor. They rely on Medicaid for access to dental care to manage chronic health conditions and treat dental conditions that would otherwise keep them from working.

On July 1st, nearly 500,000 Kentuckians lost their dental coverage without warning. This should not be about politics. This is about humanity. This is about limiting access to care by taking away desperately needed dental, vision, and medical transportation services for people who are struggling with basic survival needs every day.

The state implemented this new policy statewide on a Sunday when the MCOs, enrollees, providers, and even the state were not ready for the roll out. This has caused many problems for everyone involved. In the first week of this new policy, my colleagues and I had to cancel hundreds of appointments because the online benefits system listed patients’ benefits as “”no current coverage” or “alternative benefits.” I know an oral surgeon who had to cancel six operating room cases due to the elimination of dental services. Placing blame seems to be necessary for some, but finding and correcting the problem is what the enrollees need. Part of the eligibility problem was solved last Friday with cooperation from the state and providers – it was a team effort.

There is still much to do. The expansion population is still without dental, vision, and non-emergency transportation. What happens if there is another Demonte Driver case, the young man in Maryland who died from an infected tooth because he could not find a provider? Who will take the responsibility when someone ends up in the hospital or dies due to eliminating these benefits? When things don’t go as planned, our elected officials need to work with the providers to improvise, improve, and work to bring about sound, effective alternative plans that do no harm.

Medicaid should not be, and is not, a way of life. It is a way out of poverty by increasing quality of life. It is not a hand out, but a hand up.

I challenge our elected officials to “reach across the aisle.” Create healthy, sound programs that put Kentucky forward. Stop yelling, finger pointing and name-calling – it accomplishes nothing but division. Working together is the only way to keep both Kentucky and America great. Lady Liberty stumbles sometimes, but she always manages to get up and dust herself off, stronger than she was before.

We have good, caring legislators in Eastern Kentucky at the state and Federal levels. Senator Jones, Representative Hatton, Representative Harris, Senator Stivers, Senator Turner, Representative Adkins, Senator Smith, Representative Couch and Congressman Rogers, to name a few. There are many more in the Mountain Caucus and across the state. This is not about politics; it is about the lives of people, the well-being of families, our mountain brothers and sisters as well as individuals in the rest of the state. Stand united, be there for each other, and show hear and compassion to your fellow human.

Harry Truman once said, “Men make history, not the other way around. In periods where there is no leadership, society stands still. Progress occurs when courageous, skillful leaders seize the opportunity to change things for the better.” Now is the time to seize this opportunity. Let’s get this right; many people’s lives are at stake.