FRANKFORT — Gov. Matt Bevin promised a profound change in his administration’s attention to vulnerable children and lawmakers who specialize in health care offered their advice to professionals in the field during the Kentucky Summit on Access to Care for Children and Youth Wednesday.
The event, sponsored by the Commission for Children with Special Health Care Needs, National Governors Association and National Conference of State Legislators, aimed to bring together stakeholders in government, medicine and insurance to brainstorm strategies to improve health-care access for youth with special needs.
Bevin, who welcomed about 60 participants to the Thomas D. Clark Center for Kentucky History, read a proclamation naming May 25 as Children and Youth with Special Health Care Needs Awareness Day and said those in the audience should expect to see major differences in this area from his administration.
“I do hope you take comfort from the fact that this is very much something that, speaking for myself and for my wife and for the secretary, that we intend to resolve to the absolute degree that we possibly can,” he said. “We have certain fiscal realities, that’s true, but we will hear you like you have never been heard. We want to hear from you.”
Asked afterward how he envisioned his administration improving access to care for children and youth, Bevin said the Cabinet for Health and Family Services needs employees who care more and aren’t overburdened by regulations or bureaucracy.
“The people in government, frankly, sadly, not just in this cabinet but in others, have not always been as committed to this as they could be,” Bevin said before transitioning to his family’s own trials with CHFS. A profile of Bevin during the gubernatorial primary by the Lexington Herald-Leader notes that the agency rejected their attempt to adopt a foster child because they had five other children.
“I know from personal experience. It was a crazy experience dealing with the Cabinet for Health and Family Services. There are people who just have not historically cared to the degree that they should care. We are trying to ensure that everybody who is employed by the cabinet is somebody who cares.”
Lawmakers on the panel — which included Sens. Ralph Alvarado, R-Winchester, and Julie Raque Adams, R-Louisville and Reps. Joni Jenkins, D-Shively, and Mary Lou Marzian, D-Louisville — told those in the audience to seek out their representatives in the General Assembly to discuss issues they’re facing ahead of the next legislative session and, if possible, form coalitions to demonstrate the amount of support behind those topics.
Alvarado said large coalitions often grab legislators’ attention better than single entities as more groups bring “more pressure.”
“Having those kinds of allies goes a long way in pushing some of these things through,” he said.
Adams, chair of the Senate Health and Welfare Committee, said a bill’s chances of receiving a committee hearing rise “tremendously” if a large contingent of supporters speak in favor of it.
“There’s so many bills that people want to have heard that you generally gravitate toward hearing those bills that have consensus already built in,” she said. “… If there is a solution that you really want to see happen, start working on it now, get your partners on board.”
Marizan pointed to this year’s expungement bill, House Bill 40, that gained momentum in the legislature with a concerted push by a broad spectrum of supportive groups.
That sort of legislation also has an affect in health care, she said, as convicted felons found difficulty finding employment and, thus, had subpar or nonexistent insurance coverage for themselves and their families.
“We know the studies of folks that live in poverty, especially children, are going to not have as good health care, not have as good an education, no food, the whole nine yards,” Marzian said.