FRANKFORT, Ky. — A former public health dentist at the University of Kentucky says in a lawsuit he was fired for publicly criticizing Republican Gov. Matt Bevin’s plan to overhaul the state’s Medicaid program.
Raynor Mullins was a faculty member at the university’s College of Dentistry. He lost his job June 30 after more than 40 years with the university. In a federal lawsuit filed Wednesday, Mullins says two top university officials and an unknown member of Bevin’s administration conspired to punish him for publicly criticizing the governor’s Medicaid plan. He wants money to compensate him for losing his job and to punish the university and Bevin’s office for harming his reputation.
“What I experienced has no place in our state or our land-grant university,” Mullins said. “The need now is to inject transparency and the rays of bright sunlight on what occurred.”
A spokeswoman for the University of Kentucky declined to comment. Bevin spokeswoman Amanda Stamper said neither the governor nor anyone else in his office knows Mullins. However, she said “we doubt it’s a coincidence” that Mullins and his attorney Joe Childers have donated to the campaigns of Bevin’s political rivals: former Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear and his son, Democratic Attorney General Andy Beshear.
Childers declined to respond to Stamper’s comments.
Kentucky is one of 31 states that chose to expand its Medicaid program under the federal Affordable Care Act. The expansion allowed more than 440,000 people to get health coverage, dramatically reducing the state’s uninsured population. But the number of people added to the rolls far exceeded initial projections, with the state’s costs expected to rise by about $300 million beginning in January.
Last year, Bevin asked federal permission to change the state’s Medicaid program. The proposal would eliminate routine dental and vision benefits for the expanded Medicaid population. But it would let people earn those benefits back through a rewards program by doing things like volunteering, undergoing a health assessment and getting a job.
Mullins and four other “senior dental scientists” filed written comments criticizing Bevin’s proposal as adding “additional jeopardy to the already poor oral health and general health metrics of the Kentucky population.” The comments were also signed by at two other University of Kentucky employees. Childers said both of them were tenured, making it difficult for the university to punish them. One has since left the university, Childers said.
The lawsuit names Mark Birdwhistell, the vice president for administrative and external affairs at UK HealthCare, and Stephanos Kyrkanides, dean of the College of Dentistry. Bevin appointed Birdwhistell as a senior adviser to help write the Medicaid proposal.
Mullins says Birdwhistell was acting on behalf of the Bevin administration when he directed Kyrkanides to “chill and silence” Mullins. Mullins says Kyrkanides told him it was a bad strategy to anger the governor and cautioned him that, as a state employee, “we all work for the governor” while “threateningly” telling Mullins that Bevin was his boss.
Mullins got a letter in January telling him his appointment would not be renewed, with his last day being June 30. The letter said college officials were unhappy with his lack of effort in securing grants and other funding for his position. Mullins said he has a long track record of securing funding for the college.
“These stated bases for terminating Dr. Mullins were a pretext for the real reason for his employment termination – retaliation against Dr. Mullins for exercise of his First Amendment rights,” Childers wrote in the lawsuit.