Dental and vision care benefits will be restored for hundreds of thousands of Medicaid recipients in Kentucky whose recent cuts stirred an outcry from critics of the state's Republican governor.
The coverage had been cut at the start of July after a federal judge rejected Gov. Matt Bevin's plan to overhaul Kentucky's Medicaid program. The move triggered stinging criticism from Democrats and public health advocates.
"This was poor policy from the very beginning," said Sheila Schuster, a longtime Kentucky advocate for the disabled and people without health coverage.
The cuts affected nearly 400,000 Kentuckians and caused widespread disruptions in health services, she said Thursday.
"This is not just an inconvenience or a delay, this has absolutely caused pain and suffering for people," she said.
Medicaid is the joint state and federal health insurance program for poor and disabled people.
The sudden reversal was announced late Thursday by the state's Cabinet for Health and Family Services. It said dental and vision coverage are being restored to "mitigate the consequences" of the ruling. The state also reinstated non-emergency transportation services for those recipients.
The judge's ruling also marked a setback for President Donald Trump's administration, which has been encouraging states to impose work requirements and other changes on the state and federal health insurance program for poor and disabled people. The ruling blocks those requirements for now in Kentucky. Advocates warned that the reversal could be short lived, noting that federal officials will open a new comment period on the state's proposed changes to the Medicaid program.
Following the judge's ruling, state officials had hoped for quick federal action that they said would have triggered a program that Medicaid recipients could access to pay for routine vision and dental services. The cabinet said the benefits were reinstated to "avoid a prolonged coverage gap" while the program is being reviewed.
"Unfortunately, changing benefits and coverage is not as easy as flipping a single switch," the cabinet said in its statement.