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Matt Stone, The Courier-Journal
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LEXINGTON, Ky. — A retired University of Kentucky dental professor claims his scathing critique of Gov. Matt Bevin’s plan to reshape Medicaid, eliminating dental benefits for many adults, prompted retaliation from the Bevin administration that cost him his job.
Dr. Raynor Mullins, “who had a long and successful career” with UK of over 40 years promoting oral health, found himself in conflict with the Bevin administration after he and four colleagues filed public comments last year criticizing the Medicaid plan as poorly conceived and likely to drive up costs and dental disease, according to a lawsuit filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Lexington.
In fact, the lawsuit says, Bevin was “pissed off” by the comments, according to Stephanos Kyrkanides, the dean of the UK College of Dentistry, who this year fired Mullins from the post-retirement job he held at the UK Center for Oral Health Research.
“Kyrkanides told Dr. Mullins it was a very bad strategy to ‘piss the governor off’ and Dr. Mullins’ public comments had indeed ‘pissed off the governor,’ ” the lawsuit said.
Claims in the lawsuit represent only one side of the case.
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The lawsuit also alleges Mark D. Birdwhistell, a vice president at UK HealthCare who helped Bevin design his Medicaid proposal, was involved in discussions about the governor’s displeasure with Mullins and possible retaliation.
It alleges they conspired to violate Mullins’ right to free speech and asks for unspecified damages.
The lawsuit, filed by Lexington lawyer Joe F. Childers, names Kyrkanides, Birdwhistell and a “John Doe” alleged to be the Bevin administration member who conveyed the governor’s anger over the comments Mullins filed with state and federal officials.
The lawsuit comes as the federal government reviews Bevin’s request to scale back Medicaid benefits largely for the “expansion population” of about 440,000 adults added under the Affordable Care Act.
Bevin needs federal approval to enact changes aimed at “able-bodied adults” such as adding monthly premiums and eliminating dental and vision care as basic benefits.
The lawsuit claims that “Gov. Bevin and/or his agents improperly tampered with a legally required federal and state public Medicaid waiver process.”
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As part of Bevin’s request for a “waiver,” or federal approval to change basic Medicaid benefits, the public is allowed to file written comments about the changes and many people did, most of them largely critical of the plan.
The comments filed by Mullins and four colleagues with long careers in oral health, were particularly upsetting to the Bevin administration and Kyrkanides, the UK dental dean, warned Mullins of that repeatedly, the lawsuit alleges.
The decision to remove dental and vision care from standard Medicaid benefits was particularly controversial in a state with high rates of dental decay and disease and conditions often detected through routine eye exams, such as high blood pressure and diabetes.
Despite vehement protests by dental and vision professionals across Kentucky, the Bevin administration declined to restore dental and vision care as standard benefits in the proposal. Instead, people on Medicaid would have to earn points through a “My Rewards” account from activities such as job training or volunteer work that would go toward the purchase of dental of vision services.
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Mullins’ lawsuit said he learned of the governor’s anger shortly after he first filed the comments with Kentucky officials in July 2016.
It alleges that Bevin, Birdwhistell and/or others in the Bevin administration called Kyrkanides while he was vacationing in Greece and “communicated their displeasure.”
After Kyrkanides returned from vacation, he discussed his concerns with other faculty members at the dental college and his interest in terminating Mullins in retaliation for the public comments, the lawsuit said.
The dean told one faculty member he had received a call while he was in Greece from “the governor’s office” about Mullins’ comments and that Mullins “has to go.” Kyrkanides told other faculty members he had to “figure out how to get rid of Raynor Mullins,” the lawsuit said.
Mullins, the lawsuit said, was informed by Kyrkanides that “these threats flowed directly from the governor’s office.”
In October, Mullins and his colleagues filed their same comments objecting to Bevin’s proposal to remove dental benefits with the federal government, which “further infuriated” Bevin and officials in his administration.
In January, Mullins was notified his post-retirement faculty job at UK would not be renewed and his employment was terminated.
The action ended a long, successful academic career in which Mullins worked to improve oral health throughout Kentucky, the lawsuit said.
Contact reporter Deborah Yetter at 502-582-4228 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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