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Gov. Beshear outlines health care budget priorities

Stephanie Wolf

Gov. Andy Beshear previewed the health care portion of his upcoming budget proposal Wednesday. It appears to focus on lessons learned from the pandemic.

“The great lesson of COVID is that everybody counts,” Beshear said. “That we are all connected and if we don’t look out for everyone, give them the tools that they need in a pandemic to survive, then we all suffer.”

The current nursing shortage seemed to influence Beshear’s proposal, which includes bonuses along with loan forgiveness programs for nurses who choose to work within the state.

The senior population was also hit hard by the pandemic, and Beshear’s budget aims to bolster services that focus on them.

“During the pandemic, we learned hunger remains a major problem among Kentucky’s older population,” Beshear said. “There is no excuse — no person in our Commonwealth should worry about their next meal or go to bed hungry.”

He said he was not even aware of the waiting list of seniors in need of food until the pandemic began.

His budget proposal will include $36.2 million over the next two and a half years to sustain the senior hunger program and increase the number of meals it provides.

Additionally, Beshear wants to increase the funding provided to nursing homes in the state by extending the $29 per diem rate, which pays nursing homes for residents covered by Medicare and which expired at the end of 2021.

In general, Beshear said he aims to have every Kentuckian get access to the health care they need.

“And so in addition to Kynect, we must build on options like Medicaid which one in three Kentuckians rely on for their healthcare coverage,” Beshear said.

Beshear’s budget proposal fully funds Medicaid, while adding spots for both the Michelle P. Waiver program and Supports for Community Living waiver program, which aid people with intellectual or developmental disabilities to live as independently as possible

He contrasted that to the proposal from House Republicans.

“We have 400 more Michelle P. Waiver slots than the House,” Beshear said. “We have an office of dementia service, veteran affairs pieces that are out there as well.”

The governor conceded that his and the legislature’s budget proposals do align in some ways.

“Certainly we support any of our values that they fund more than we do,” Beshear said.

Beshear’s budget would also invest in mental health services, including funding for the new 988 crisis support line which is slated to replace the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline in July 2024.

Mental health issues have also been prevalent during the pandemic.

“I think we’ve seen the courage of a lot of people speaking out about difficulties and just needing a little help. And there’s nothing wrong with needing a little help,” Beshear said.

Other highlights from the preview include funding for pediatric research, and increased funding for centers providing services for domestic violence, rape crisis and child advocacy.

Beshear will present his full budget proposal to the legislature Thursday night.

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