Feds want to know what you think about Bevin plan to overhaul Medicaid & Kentucky makes Medicaid copays mandatory ‘under the cover of darkness’

Feds want to know what you think about Bevin plan to overhaul Medicaid

Deborah Yetter, Louisville Courier Journal Published 3:05 p.m. ET July 20, 2018

The federal government, once again, wants to know what people think about Gov. Matt Bevin’s plan to overhaul Kentucky’s Medicaid.

Less than a month after a federal judge struck down Bevin’s plan that includes work requirements and premiums for some Kentuckians who get health coverage through Medicaid, the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) is seeking public comments on the exact same plan, known as a “waiver.”

The public comment period began July 19 and ends Aug. 18.

Health advocates who are concerned about the changes say it’s important that people take advantage of the public comment period, as they did last year when CMS previously reviewed Bevin’s plan before approving it in January.

“It really matters that people speak up,” said Emily Beauregard, executive director of Kentucky Voices for Health, a coalition of organizations. “This is the exact same waiver.”

During the previous public comment period, about 3,000 people responded, the majority opposed to the waiver, Beauregard said.

Read more: Bevin official rips Democrats, Courier Journal over his dental care cuts

It’s not clear why CMS is seeking comments on the same plan that was rejected June 29 by U.S. District Judge James Boasberg, of Washington D.C. The judge vacated CMS’ previous approval of the plan and sent it back to the agency for further review, finding among deficiencies that the agency did not fully consider previous public comments.

A CMS statement said the agency is seeking more comments “to ensure that interested stakeholders have an opportunity to comment on issues raised in the litigation and the court’s decision.”

Some health advocates have speculated it’s part of an effort by the Trump administration to push through work requirements for people enrolled in Medicaid, following public comments by CMS administrator Seema Verma at a July 17 Politico event.

“We are very committed to this,” Verma said, according to Politico. “We are looking at what the court said. We want to be respectful of the court’s decision while also wanting to push ahead with our policy initiatives and our goals. … We are trying to figure out a path forward.”

Adam Meier, secretary of the Cabinet for Health and Family Services, told a legislative committee Wednesday that Kentucky Medicaid officials are working with CMS to enact the plan.

“Our position is that we’d like to gain re-approval as quickly as possible,” he said.

Health law advocates who successfully challenged Kentucky’s plan in federal court said they intend to argue that, as the judge found, the plan does not conform with the federal Medicaid law, which is to improve access to  health care for vulnerable citizens.

Medicaid is a federal state health plan for low-income and disabled individuals.

“We continue to take the position that work requirements are illegal because they are inconsistent with the Medicaid Act,” said Jane Perkins, legal director of the National Health Law Program in Washington.  “We will certainly be commenting during this re-opened period.”

Perkins’ group has posted additional information about the importance of public comments on its website, www.healthlaw.org.

Kentucky was the first state to win CMS approval of Medicaid work requirements.

They have already been approved in Arkansas, Indiana and New Hampshire, while Arizona, Maine, Wisconsin and Utah are waiting to hear from CMS, Politico reported.

Under Bevin’s plan, “able-bodied adults” among the about a half-million people added to Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act would be subject to “community engagement” requirements that they work or volunteer at least 20 hours a week. They also would pay premiums of $1 to $15 per month and could be subject to a “lock-out” of coverage up to six months for failing to meet requirements.

Basic vision and dental benefits would be eliminated for that group though they could earn points to purchase such services through a “My Rewards” account through activities such as volunteering or taking online self-improvement classes.

Kentucky officials said in a statement Thursday that the Cabinet for Health and Family Services has “been working with CMS on details of the re-approval process, including the status of dental and vision benefits.”

The abrupt decision of the Bevin administration to cut dental, vision and non-emergency transportation benefits July 1, two days after the judge rejected the plan, sparked an uproar among patients and health care providers across Kentucky.

On Thursday, the state announced it was reinstating the benefits while it works toward federal approval of its plan.

Here is a link to the public comment page on the CMS website: https://public.medicaid.gov/connect.ti/public.comments/viewQuestionnaire?qid=1897699.

Beauregard said Kentucky Voices for Health will also begin collecting comments on its website, https://www.kyvoicesforhealth.org/, starting July 23 that it will forward to state and federal officials.

Deborah Yetter: 502-582-4228; dyetter@courierjournal.com; Twitter: @d_yetter. Support strong local journalism by subscribing today: courier-journal.com/deborahy.

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Kentucky makes Medicaid copays mandatory ‘under the cover of darkness’

Deborah Yetter, Louisville Courier Journal Published 1:43 p.m. ET July 27, 2018 | Updated 1:48 p.m. ET July 27, 2018

After three weeks of turmoil in Kentucky’s Medicaid program, a new complication — the state’s abrupt enactment of copays ranging from $1 to $50 for medical services — has triggered more confusion among patients, some afraid they can’t afford items such as essential medication for diabetes and asthma.

“It seemed to have been slipped in under the cover of darkness,” said Bill Wagner, CEO of Family Health Centers, a network of community clinics in Louisville. “Even though this went into effect July 1, the instructions have not come out.”

At the University of Louisville medical school, Dr. Barbara Casper, an internist, worries state officials didn’t consider the impact of the new copays on the very poor patients she treats in an outpatient clinic, many of them seriously ill.

“Some of our patients can’t even pay $1,” said Casper, who credits Kentucky’s 2014 expansion of Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act for providing health coverage for many of the low-income patients U of L sees at its clinics.

“This was a problem before we had the Medicaid expansion,” she said. “We had a $2 copay for our patients to be seen and some of them couldn’t even come up with that.”

The clinic does not turn away patients who can’t pay, she said.

Related: Feds want to know what you think about Bevin plan to overhaul Medicaid

While small copays have long been allowed by Medicaid, Kentucky hasn’t required them in recent years. The sudden announcement that copays were mandatory July 1 caught many health providers and advocates off guard.

“Complete confusion,” is how Sheila Schuster, a longtime mental health advocate described it. “It’s not entirely clear what copays are charged for certain services.”

Adam Meier, secretary of the Cabinet for Health and Family Services, speaking at a legislative committee meeting July 18, said his agency is “still clarifying” some aspects of the copays. The cabinet did not respond to a request for information for this story.

Health providers say they aren’t sure who has to pay, who is exempt, how to collect the copays and what to do when patients can’t pay.

For example, pregnant women and children generally have been exempt from such requirements. But several health providers say it appears that children covered through Children’s Health Insurance Program, a Medicaid program for children of low-income parents, must now pay copays.

In Kentucky, about 90,000 children are covered by CHIP.

Background: Bevin will reverse cuts to Medicaid dental, vision services, state says

Some health providers are reassuring patients they will still get care if they can’t pay, including Bridgehaven, a day program in Louisville for people with serious, disabling mental illnesses.

“I worry about it causing them additional stress and anxiety when they’re already trying to cope with mental illness and trying to live on an extremely limited income,” Bridgehaven CEO Ramona Johnson said.

The copays come in the midst of upheaval in the Kentucky Medicaid program, which covers about 1.4 million people, including more than 600,000 children.

The state launched the copays on the same day it had planned to launch Gov. Matt Bevin’s sweeping plan to overhaul Medicaid, adding work requirements, premiums and other new rules aimed at “able-bodied” adults.

But a federal judge struck down the plan June 29, forcing the state to abruptly halt the changes that could affect nearly half a million Kentuckians.

Meanwhile, in a separate move effective July 1, the Bevin administration abruptly announced it had eliminated basic dental and vision coverage for up to 460,000 Kentuckians, creating an uproar particularly among patients who arrived at dentists’ offices only to discover they had no Medicaid coverage.

The administration quickly backtracked and on July 19 said it was rescinding the cuts to dental and vision benefits for now.

But the copays remain in place, leaving bewildered health providers trying to figure out with little guidance how to apply them. If the patient can’t pay, it comes out of the Medicaid reimbursement and the provider takes the loss.

“It could become a big issue for providers that operate with a very slim margin,” Johnson said.

Read this: ‘I want to have my teeth’: Bevin’s Medicaid cuts leave Kentuckians in pain

She said that includes her organization, Bridgehaven, whose clients typically visit the center three times a week and may receive three or more services per day, such as a visit with a therapist, a support group and a peer counseling session.

The state says providers must charge $3 per office visit for a service, so that means clients could end up owing $9 a day, Johnson said.

“Three times a day, three times a week, that’s $27 a week,” Johnson said. In addition, Bridgehaven clients will have to pay $3 for visits to a primary care physician or psychiatrist and copays for medication of up to $8 per prescription — medication she said is essential for people with mental illness to remain stable.

“Of course they don’t have that kind of money,” she said. “They struggle to pay their rent, their utilities, buy their groceries.”

Johnson said Bridgehaven will still provide services for clients for now regardless of ability to pay the copay, but the organization could lose up to $100,000 a year from an already tight budget by doing so.

She’s also worried copays will discourage people from seeking treatment.

And in the mental health area, if people don’t get regular services, they wind up homeless, in jail or in far more costly psychiatric hospitals — at state expense, according to mental health advocates.

Casper, the U of L physician, said that also holds true for patients she sees with serious conditions including diabetes, high blood pressure, congestive heart failure, asthma and emphysema.

She worries the patients will wind up in the emergency room or hospital if they skip office visits or cut back on medication because they can’t afford a copay. Copays for Medicaid range from $1 for generics to $4 or $8 for some name brand drugs.

Watch: ‘It’s just wrong:’ Susan Wells talks about how Medicaid cuts affected her

And while physicians try to prescribe generic drugs, some medications — such as insulin for diabetes and inhalers for asthma or other breathing disorders — mostly are available only as name brand drugs, she said.

“It’s not uncommon for some of our patients to be on 10 different medications,” Casper said. “They’re going to be back in the circumstances they were in previously. Do they eat, pay rent, their electric bill, take care of children or get their medicine?”

Casper said the new copays are especially frustrating because they come as patients now receiving regular care through Medicaid are beginning to make important changes in their lifestyles, losing weight, monitoring blood pressure and getting treatment for chronic illnesses.

“It kind of breaks my heart,” she said. “I’ve seen a lot more engagement in their health care by our patients. They’re doing all we want them to to stay healthy.”

Health providers said they are trying to explain the changes to patients and let them know what to expect but are having a hard time doing so absent clear guidance from state Medicaid officials.

“There’s no rhyme or reason as to how co-pays are coming through,” said Michael Lin, pharmacy director for Family Health Centers. “They’re so inconsistent.”

The state has sent out information to people on Medicaid but several providers say patients have brought it to them, unable to understand the complicated, bureaucratic language.

At the Family Health Centers pharmacy in Portland, patients are worried about whether they can afford new Medicaid copays, especially if they have multiple prescriptions for essential medications such as inhalers for asthma or insulin for diabetes.

“They worry about what’s going to happen if they don’t have the money,” Lin said.

The latest: Bevin shrugs off questions about his plans, draws comparison to Trump

Lin and Wagner said the Family Health Centers won’t turn away people who can’t pay, because as a federally recognized “safety net”  health service, their agency is able to get other funding to try to defray the costs.

But they said health care providers in private practice don’t have the ability to sustain losses from patients who can’t pay the copay.

And Wagner said making up the difference will still be a hit to the budget at Family Health Centers and other health care providers.

“It’s going to come off the bottom line,” he said.

Deborah Yetter: 502-582-4228; dyetter@courierjournal.com; Twitter: @d_yetter. Support strong local journalism by subscribing today: courier-journal.com/deborahy.

Medicaid copays

Here are some of the new copays some people covered by Medicaid are being charged, effective July 1.

>> Office visits for physician, dentist, vision care, behavioral health or other health provider:  $3

>> Prescription drugs: $1 for generic drugs, $4 to $8 for name-brand medication.

>> Outpatient hospital service: $4

>> Emergency room visit for non-emergency: $8

>> Hospital admission: $50

>> Durable medical equipment: $4

>> Laboratory or X-ray services: $3

>> Physical, speech or occupational therapy: $3

>> Chiropractor: $3

>> Podiatrist: $3

Source: Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services

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Teaching Children About Christian God and Bible In Kentucky Public Schools is Against the Consitution, ACLU Warns

GettyImages-887725104

By Callum Paton On 1/12/18 at 7:39 AM

Some bible literacy classes being taught in Kentucky public schools may be unconstitutional, the American Civil Liberties Union has warned.

WSAZ news reported that the Kentucky chapter of the ACLU wrote a letter to the state’s department of education expressing “serious concern” over courses that began in the fall as part of an elective social studies program.

The ACLU is asking that the Kentucky Department of Education ensure that all Bible studies classes be appropriately controlled and applied within constitutional guidelines.

The civil liberties union has focused in on one course in one Kentucky county that it has said appears to be unconstitutional. The problem seems to have arisen over students’ ability to shape their own learning and course materials. This, the ACLU has said, has proven highly problematic.

“Crafting and teaching ‘Bible Literacy’ courses in a constitutionally permissible manner is exceedingly difficult to do … such a difficult and important task should not be left up to the very students who are in school to learn,” the group has said.

A spokeswoman for the ACLU told WSAZ the “unconstitutional activity” has centered around Lewis county, where  “serious fundamental and constitutional issues” have been found in course materials made available through an open records request.

Lewis County High School Principal Jack Lykins has defended the program saying there is nothing unconstitutional about the course that was passed into law last Summer.

“There’s no daily devotionals, that’s not done. Daily prayer is not done … it’s more of a comparative religion,” Lykins said. “I feel like here we follow what the constitution says, the constitution does not say we have to have separation of church and state, it says congress shall make no law establishing a religion,” the principal said.

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Kentucky becomes first U.S. state to impose Medicaid work provisos

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Kentucky on Friday became the first U.S. state to require that Medicaid recipients work or get jobs training, after gaining federal approval for the fundamental change to the 50-year-old health insurance program for the poor.

The approval came one day after the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services issued policy guidance allowing states to design and propose test programs with such unprecedented requirements.

Kentucky’s waiver, submitted for federal approval in 2016, requires able-bodied adult recipients to participate in at least 80 hours per month of “employment activities,” including jobs training, education and community service.

Most recipients must pay a premium based on income. Some who miss a payment or fail to re-enroll will be locked out for six months. The new rules will go into effect in July, Kentucky state officials said.

“Kentucky will now lead on this issue,” Governor Matt Bevin said at a news conference on Friday. “They want the dignity associated with being able to earn and have engagement in the very things they’re receiving,” he said of Medicaid recipients.

Democrats and health advocacy groups blasted the federal policy on Thursday, saying it would make it tougher for the most vulnerable Americans to have access to health care. The Southern Poverty Law Center liberal advocacy group said it planned to file a legal challenge.

Certain groups are exempt, including former foster care youth, pregnant women, primary caregivers of a dependent, full-time students and the medically frail. The Trump administration also said states would have to make “reasonable modifications” for those battling opioid addiction and other substance-use disorders.

Kentucky, along with 30 other states, expanded Medicaid to those earning up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level under the Affordable Care Act, former Democratic President Barack Obama’s signature domestic policy achievement commonly called Obamacare.

More than 400,000 Kentucky residents gained health insurance through the program, the highest growth rate of Medicaid coverage of any state.

Among adult Medicaid recipients aged 18 to 64, 60 percent already have jobs, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation health policy research group. Most adult Medicaid recipients who do not work reported major impediments as the reason, according to Kaiser.

Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin has said that the program had become financially unsustainable under Obamacare, although the federal government covers the majority of its cost. The waiver is projected to reduce the number of people on Medicaid by nearly 86,000 within five years, saving more than $330 million.

At least nine additional states, mostly Republican led, have proposed similar changes to Medicaid: Arizona, Arkansas, Indiana, Kansas, Maine, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Utah and Wisconsin.

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The Kentucky Justice and Public Safety Cabinet and Operation UNITE are launching a new substance abuse call center that will connect people across the state with drug treatment, Gov. Matt Bevin announced today

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Contact: Woody Maglinger
502-564-2611
Woody.Maglinger@ky.gov

*Correction: The helpline will go live on Dec. 1, 2017.

Gov. Matt Bevin, Justice Cabinet and Operation UNITE Unveil New Drug Treatment Helpline

The KY Help Call Center will connect people with resources statewide

FRANKFORT, Ky. (Nov. 17, 2017) – The Kentucky Justice and Public Safety Cabinet and Operation UNITE are launching a new substance abuse call center that will connect people across the state with drug treatment, Gov. Matt Bevin announced today.

Beginning Dec. 1, Kentuckians struggling with a substance use disorder, either themselves or within their families, can call 1-833-8KY-HELP (1-833-859-4357) toll-free to speak with a specialist about treatment options and available resources. The specialist will conduct a brief screening assessment in order to connect callers with the most relevant treatment services as quickly as possible.

“This epidemic is gripping people in every corner of our state and every part of our society,” said Gov. Bevin. “If people don’t know about the ability to get help, then help is not going to be given to people. This phone number will connect callers to a live person who understands this exact issue and will link them to community resources that can help.”

Operation UNITE already fields about 1,000 inquiries each month from desperate residents seeking help with a substance use disorder. The new KY Help Call Center will provide referrals across the state to both public and private treatment providers.

Options will include everything from medication-assisted treatment to faith-based care, and the live specialist will help callers work through all the variables, such as location and cost.

“There are so many people across the commonwealth who have nowhere to turn when confronted with their own addiction or that of a loved one,” said Nancy Hale, President/CEO of Operation UNITE. “They are desperate for answers. They are desperate for help. This call center will guide people toward recovery. It will give them hope.”

The partnership with Operation UNITE is the latest initiative in the state’s “Don’t Let Them Die” campaign. Gov. Bevin unveiled that campaign earlier this year, encouraging all Kentuckians to take proactive steps to combat the lethal opioid crisis, which claimed more than 1,400 lives in 2016.

Kentucky Justice Secretary John Tilley said those in the grip of addiction often have brief moments of clarity when they are most receptive to help.

“We must seize on those rare opportunities to save lives,” Secretary Tilley said. “This call center brings us closer to on-demand treatment than ever before, and it allows callers to locate the resources that work best for them. The bottom line is that recovery happens, and I’m grateful that our state is leading the charge against this national pandemic.”

UNITE is staffing the KY Help Call Center with specialists in Prestonsburg, Ky., and the Kentucky Justice Cabinet is funding it through anti-drug appropriations in the current budget — approximately $500,000 per year for the next two years.

Callers can speak to a specialist from 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. (ET), Monday through Friday. During non-business hours, callers may leave a message and the call center staff will get back in touch with them.

More information is available at DontLetThemDie.com and OperationUNITE.org.

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The Continuing Saga of Kentucky Cannabis…

Headlines from the past week on the continuing argument concerning Cannabis “legalization” in Kentucky…

Witnesses testify against Kentucky legalizing marijuana

LOUISVILLE (WHAS) — A proposal to balance Kentucky’s pension crisis with proceeds from pot sales has gained a lot of attention on social media. Thursday it was the focus of a hearing in Frankfort.  

Governor Matt Bevin has said he’s against recreational or “adult use” of marijuana but Senator Dan Seum, a powerful member of Governor Bevin’s own party, thinks it’s a way to bail Kentucky out of the pension crisis.

There’s still a way to go before even medicinal marijuana could be approved in Kentucky so the Interim Joint Committee on Veterans, Military Affairs, and Public Protection listened to a panel of experts opposed to pot.

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Law Enforcement Group Opposes Legalized Marijuana in Kentucky

As Kentucky lawmakers explore ways to pay for public employee pensions, a coalition of law enforcement groups say legalizing marijuana for recreational use isn’t the answer.

“I’m not willing to risk my grandchildren’s health to save my pension,” Kentucky State Police Commissioner Richard W. Sanders said yesterday while testifying before the Interim Joint Committee on Veterans, Military Affairs and Public Protection. “I don’t think that is the right way to go with this thing.”

Sanders is a 40-year law enforcement veteran with 21 years vested in the state’s hazardous duty pension.

Kentucky Office of Drug Control Policy Executive Director Van Ingram testified that marijuana is harmful to society.

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Hearing Held in Frankfort About Legalizing Recreational Marijuana in Kentucky

Hearing Held in Frankfort About Legalizing Recreational Marijuana in Kentucky

A public forum was held with the Committee on Veterans, Military Affairs and Public Protection. The committee heard testimony on cannabis and public safety.

Kentucky State Police, the Kentucky Office of Drug Control Police, the National Marijuana Initiative and Smart Approaches to Marijuana were representative to testify. There was also an opportunity for people who wanted to give their opinion but are not scheduled to testify.

STATE BY STATE: Kentucky Cannabis News

Sen. Dan Seum has said legalizing marijuana and taxing it could help the state dig out of the massive pension hole.

Kentucky State Police Commissioner Rick Sanders says this situation isn’t just about the pension.

“My 40 years in law enforcement tells me this is not the savior,” says Sanders. “I’m not willing to risk my children and grandchildren’s health to save my pension.”

During the meeting a committee voted to send a letter to the Food and Drug Administration asking for continued and accelerated research.

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Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin Will Veto Any Legislative Attempt to Legalize Recreational Marijuana

One Kentucky lawmaker is pushing for legalization as a way to solve the state’s pension problem, but Gov. Bevin says it’ll have to wait until he’s out of office.

With California, Massachusetts and Maine debuting recreational marijuana markets next year, it may seem like legal weed is everywhere. But beyond the country’s progressive coastal hubs, huge swaths of America are still being thrown in jail for cannabis crimes, with politicians who are supposed to be protecting their constituents pushing blatant lies about weed in an effort to protect prohibition’s status quo.

In Kentucky, Republican state Senator Dan Seum is ready to change those tired traditions, and has already voiced plans to introduce legislation to legalize recreational marijuana, with an eye towards funding the state’s floundering pension program through cannabis tax revenue.

However, rationally or not, Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin is firmly cemented in the past and will do everything in his power to block Seum’s legalization effort, effectively signaling a death sentence for Kentucky cannabis reform until at least 2020.

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RELATED:

This meeting was not supposed to known to the public… “Frankfort, Anti-Marijuana Discussion”

Additional information here:

KY4MM

(KY) “…the state has a good reason to "curtail citizens’ possession of a narcotic, hallucinogenic drug."

Homegrown2017

Kentucky judge dismisses challenge of medical marijuana ban

  • By adam beam, associated press

FRANKFORT, Ky. — Sep 20, 2017, 4:57 PM ET

Kentucky’s ban on medical marijuana has survived an initial test in court, with a judge ruling Wednesday that the state has a good reason to “curtail citizens’ possession of a narcotic, hallucinogenic drug.”

Twenty-nine other states have legalized marijuana in some way, the most common being for medical purposes. While Kentucky lawmakers have embraced hemp — the fibers of the plant that are used to make rope, clothing and other products — and other uses for the cannabis plant, they have failed to consider a number of proposals that would let people use marijuana as medicine.

Frustrated, three people sued the governor and the attorney general earlier this year and asked a judge to throw out the ban because “denying sick people safe medicine” is unjust.

Franklin Circuit Judge Thomas Wingate rejected that argument, ruling the state had good reason to ban the use of marijuana. He also said the state legislature has “discretion to regulate what is harmful to the public health and wellbeing.” He told the plaintiffs their only option was to persuade the state legislature to lift the ban.

“The Bevin Administration applauds Judge Wingate’s decision to follow the law and dismiss this lawsuit,” said Woody Maglinger, a spokesman for Republican Gov. Matt Bevin. “Any change to Kentucky law should go through the legislative process.”

The people who filed the lawsuit could appeal the ruling. Their attorney, Dan Canon, said they have not made a decision yet.

“We respect the court’s decision, but we strongly disagree with it,” Canon wrote in an email to The Associated Press. “Our clients have said all along that they want the government to stop intruding into the relationship between them and their physicians.”

The plaintiffs all say they use marijuana as medicine. Amy Stalker said she used marijuana with a prescription while living in Colorado and Washington state to treat irritable bowel syndrome and bipolar disorder. She said she has struggled to maintain her health since moving to Kentucky to care for her mother.

Danny Belcher says he uses marijuana to treat post-traumatic stress disorder stemming from his service in the Vietnam War. And Dan Seum Jr., son of Republican state Sen. Dan Seum, said he uses marijuana to ease pain from his inoperable spinal problems.

Seum Jr. said doctors prescribed him Oxycontin, an opioid-based painkiller that is highly addictive and had led to a surge of overdose deaths in the state.

“I don’t want to be addicted to those type drugs,” Seum Jr. said. “Although cannabis, it doesn’t take (the pain) away completely; it allows me to function a little more. I can function and still not be addicted.”

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Kentucky prosecutors warn against budget cuts during legislative committee meeting

For Immediate Release

September 15, 2017

Kentucky prosecutors warn against budget cuts during legislative committee meeting

FRANKFORT—Kentucky prosecutors today told state lawmakers that they have little to nothing to cut from their budgets.

Governor Matt Bevin requested that most state agencies plan to cut around 17 percent from their current budgets in a letter sent to state officials last week. The cuts are expected to save the state around $350 million, state officials say.  But prosecutors like Kenton County Commonwealth’s Attorney Rob Sanders said the cuts would “not only eliminate (specific programs). They would shut down our offices.”

Commonwealth’s attorney and county attorney office budgets both fall under the Executive branch, which the Governor oversees. 

“We’re talking one in three employees in our office if we implement cuts October 1,” said Sanders. By January, he said possibly 50 percent of his employees would be have to be let go, under the plan. Warren County Commonwealth’s Attorney Chris Cohron said the same scenario would likely play out across the state, with prosecutors in the largest judicial circuits affected the most.

“The bigger jurisdictions are going to bear the brunt of it. Our conservative estimate is the larger officials would have to look at laying off 60 to 70 percent of our total staff. That’s just not doable,” he told the committee.

Cohron said staff cuts would negatively impact the state’s heroin “Rocket Docket”—an efficiency program in place in over 30 of the state’s 57 judicial circuits that puts treatment ahead of incarceration for certain drug offenses. Local jails statewide are on track to save around $50 million by the end of fiscal year 2018 due to the success of the Rocket Docket program, he said.

Staff cuts could also restrict funding for advocacy of elderly, children and domestic violence victims, Cohron said, since criminal prosecution comes first. All non-court personnel, including victim advocates, would “have to be looked at being reduced immediately,” he said, adding that court appearances and timely disposition of cases would also be impacted by reductions.

“There are human costs to this,” he said.

Henderson County Attorney Steven Gold, who is also the president of the Kentucky County Attorneys Association, said the state’s 120 county attorney offices collect child support, serve as a financial watchdog, and advise and assist county governments. They are also a key player all criminal cases in the Commonwealth, he said, “plus mental health, guardianship, child dependency/neglect/abuse, truancy and runaway” cases and more. While Gold said county attorneys “embrace” their work, they need the funding to meet their obligations. Budget reductions would work counter to that, he said.

“If we are to believe that out of the crucible that is court comes justice, we must have good people—well-funded, well-trained people—on both sides to make that justice a result,” he told the panel.

Rep. Jason Petrie, R-Elkton, asked how much of a cut the prosecutorial system could withstand. None, Sanders said.

“How much of a cut we can sustain when we’re talking about budget reduction? Zero. Because…we’re already going to be short on funds. We’re already going to be laying people off,” he said.

Rep. Robert Benvenuti, R-Lexington, said government’s top priority is public protection. He encouraged prosecutors to make that clear when working with lawmakers in coming months.

“Don’t be shy about saying ‘why is the state spending money on this when we don’t have enough law enforcement officers on the street? When we don’t have enough prosecutors?” Benvenuti said.

A report on factors affecting the state Department of Juvenile Justice and an overview of KASPER (the Kentucky All Schedule Prescription Electronic Reporting System) were also presented to the committee.

–END–