Gov. Beshear Launches Initiative to Boost Workforce Participation by Improving Health in Critical Areas

Health care access helps Kentuckians on Medicaid get back into the workforce

FRANKFORT, Ky. (Oct. 20, 2022) – Today, Gov. Andy Beshear announced a new initiative to help boost workforce participation by improving health coverage in the critical areas of dental, vision and hearing.

The Governor noted that the state has set record low unemployment rates this year, holding at or below 3.9% since April, and led the nation in job growth for August. In 2021, Gov. Beshear announced a record number of new jobs for Kentuckians, at the second-highest average wage on record.

“Our strong economy and workforce should benefit all our Kentucky families, and that is why my administration is working to reach those who have left the workforce due to factors like incarceration, addiction, lack of access to childcare or poor health,” Gov. Beshear said. “Today’s announcement is focused on improving health to get people back in the workforce by removing the roadblocks for many Kentuckians in accessing dental, vision and hearing care. We know that when people cannot see or hear well, or have poor oral health, it hinders their ability to seek and maintain a job.”

The Governor added, “With such low unemployment, our focus can’t be there, as our people aren’t out of the workforce because of unemployment benefits. So we have to look at what has some people out of the workforce altogether. It is straightforward – to get more people into the workforce, we must get them healthy enough.”

The initiative largely will use federal dollars to reach more than 900,000 adults enrolled in the state Medicaid program. Families who qualify are at or under 138% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines, approximately $18,700 per year for an individual; $38,200 for a family of four. Children and youth ages 21 and under, enrolled in Medicaid already qualify for these health services.

Beginning Jan. 1, 2023, Medicaid members will be able to access the benefits. No special enrollment period is needed.

The Governor outlined research that supports the decision to expand benefits to help more Kentuckians return to the workforce.

Dental Services Facts

Vision Coverage Facts

Hearing Aids Facts

  • Hearing aids have been shown to reduce the risk of dementia, depression, anxiety and myocardial infarction.
  • Hearing loss is the third most common chronic physical condition among all U.S. adults and is more prevalent than diabetes or cancer.
  • Approximately 16% of Kentuckians have some degree of hearing loss, according to 2020 U.S. Census data. The Kentucky Commission on the Deaf and Hard of Hearing estimates that that up to 700,000 Kentuckians identify as hard of hearing.

“The social drivers of health are what are particularly important. Maybe the most important social driver of all is to have a job, to be able to be employed, to be able to make a living for your family and to get your family in a healthy economic position,” said Ben Chandler, president and chief executive officer of the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky. “All of the data shows that when you work, you have a much better chance of having good health. You have to be able to have good health to work and you have to be able to work to have good health.”

“Through our years of experience assisting Kentuckians with career and employment services, we know that a significant percentage of people – especially those in recovery – lack access to adequate dental and vision care, in turn creating barriers to employability,” said Executive Director, EKWorkforce Innovation Board / EKCEP, INC., Jeff Whitehead. “We are encouraged by the Governor’s focus on expanding Medicaid to increase these services, as this is vital not only for individuals’ well-being, but also their ability to land a job and thrive in the workplace.”

Dr. Emmick Morris, OD, president of the Kentucky Optometry Association and a primary health care provider in Brandenburg, said, “All too often, I hear that people don’t go to the eye doctor because they can’t pay for treatment, glasses or contact lenses to help them see. As a doctor of optometry, I know firsthand the role vision care has on a person’s overall health. The ability to properly see is necessary to be a contributing member of society – without the proper glasses or contact lenses, a person cannot even drive to work. Having these benefits readily available and covered within the Medicaid program will encourage more citizens to get the care they need. I am grateful the administration has acknowledged the value of improved eye health.”

Virginia Moore, executive director of the Kentucky Commission of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing said, “Good health care is so important for the overall physical and mental health of Kentuckians. Unaddressed hearing loss and the inability to access care or hearing aids can lead to early-onset dementia, mental health issues and a lot of other challenges. I applaud what the Governor is doing to provide good, quality health care to more of our people so that they can live healthy lives and pursue more opportunities.”

Cabinet for Health and Family Services Secretary Eric Friedlander said, “Great strides have been made over the past several years, starting with Medicaid expansion in 2014. This transformational agreement with the federal government provides coverage for services that is long overdue. We know the impact of hearing and vision loss on the overall health of too many Kentuckians and updating dental coverage and supporting better oral health will improve the health of our neighbors and communities.”

Other Efforts to Remove Workforce Barriers
The Governor noted that, as expected, many Baby Boomers have retired over the past several years, which is a significant reason why the number of Kentuckians not in the workforce has increased. In addition to today’s announcement, Gov. Beshear and his administration continue to work to remove workforce barriers for Kentuckians affected by addiction or incarceration as well as for those who need access to childcare.

The Governor has also worked to help the incarcerated population through a statewide project that provides transportation to former inmates so they can access substance-abuse recovery facilities, medical appointments, job interviews, educational courses, probation and parole meetings and employment. State agencies are partnering to serve nearly 50,000 Kentuckians currently under the supervision of probation or parole who can benefit from this project.

For those suffering from addiction, in September 2021, Gov. Beshear announced the commonwealth had launched a new initiative to help employers address addiction, boost hiring and retention and support employees in the workplace.

To help remove the barrier of access to childcare for those in the workforce, Gov. Beshear’s administration is currently working to establish an Employee Childcare Assistance Partnership, which allows eligible parents and guardians to access employer-subsidized childcare. The program will be implemented in 2023. Through federal funding the administration has also provided more than $800 million to help support childcare and families during the pandemic.

Expanding Access to Affordable Health Care
The Governor believes that health care is a basic human right and since taking office has fought for affordable and accessible health care coverage for every Kentucky family, regardless of where they live or how much money they make.

During his first week in office, Gov. Beshear worked to expand access to critical health care for nearly 100,000 Kentuckians by eliminating governmental roadblocks. And in an effort to improve maternal and child health outcomes and increase access to life-saving health care services for more Kentuckians, the Governor in May 2022 announced that Medicaid coverage would expand to a full 12-month postpartum period.

Last year, the Governor also announced Kentucky hospitals will receive an additional $800 million to $1 billion annually to help advance the quality of care for Medicaid members and provide a stable base for hospitals that will extend beyond the financial challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Gov. Beshear also relaunched kynect, which offers health coverage options for Kentucky families. The program has expanded to include food, rent and childcare assistance programs for those in need.

And in July, the Governor announced the launch of the 988 Lifeline, the easy-to-remember crisis and suicide prevention line that connects someone in a mental health crisis with a compassionate person trained to help.

During Gov. Beshear’s term, the state is also seeing health care services expand across the state. For example, Goodwill Industries of Kentucky and Norton Healthcare are making a historic $100 million investment in West Louisville. Soon life-enhancing programs, including the first hospital built west of Ninth Street in more than 150 years, will open.

The Governor has also supported many pieces of good legislation, including measures that have capped the cost of lifesaving insulin for many Kentuckians; expanded access to mental health care through telehealth; increased mental health support for first responders and students; created a lung cancer screening program and improved the quality of mental health treatment; enhanced stroke care and provided access to the lowest-cost medicine.