LEXINGTON, Ky. — A retired University of Kentucky professor of dental health alleges in a federal lawsuit that members of Gov. Matt Bevin’s administration and UK officials retaliated against him for his criticisms of Bevin’s proposed Medicaid waiver — all of which led to his termination from his position.
Dr. Raynor Mullins, 74, an emeritus faculty member with a 40-year record of promoting dental health, filed suit in U.S. District Court, naming as defendants Mark D. Birdwhistell, Vice President of Administrative and External Affairs for UK HealthCare, Dr. Stephanos Kyrkanides, Dean of the UK College of Dentistry, and John Doe.
Mullins is represented by Lexington attorney Joe Childers who held a press conference Wednesday with Mullins after they filed the suit in Lexington.
Birdwhistell worked with the Bevin administration to design a proposed 1115 waiver to alter Kentucky’s delivery of Medicaid services to the expanded Medicaid population under the Affordable Care Act. The state is awaiting a decision on the proposal from the federal government.
The suit alleges that Bevin and/or his agents, including the unknown John Doe, communicated to Birdwhistell and Kyrkanides their displeasure with public comments on the waiver submitted by Mullins during the legally required public comment period before the waiver was submitted.
The waiver would require recipients to work or volunteer at least 20 hours a week and eliminates automatic coverage for dental and vision health, instead allowing enrollees to earn awards which can be used to pay for such services.
The comments were posted online by “Save our Kentucky Healthcare,” a group opposing changes to the Medicaid expansion which is associated with former Gov. Steve Beshear. Beshear expanded Medicaid under the ACA; he and Bevin have feuded politically.
Amanda Stamper, Bevin’s communications director, denied knowledge of the suit’s allegations and suggested it is politically motivated.
“Neither Gov. Bevin, nor anybody else in the governor’s office, knows the plaintiff or has any knowledge about the allegations detailed in the media’s coverage of this case,” she said. “We doubt it’s a coincidence that both the plaintiff and his lawyer are political donors and supporters of Steve and Andy Beshear.”
Andy Beshear is the former governor’s son and the Democratic Attorney General who has challenged several executive orders by Bevin in state courts.
According to the Kentucky Registry of Election Finance, Mullins contributed $250 to Steve Beshear’s 2011 re-election campaign. Childers contributed $100 to Steve Beshear’s 2007 campaign for governor; $2,000 to his 2011 primary and general election re-election campaigns; and $1,000 to Andy Beshear’s 2015 primary and general election campaigns for attorney general.
Mullins’ suit alleges Kyrkanides told Mullins to stay “off radio” about the waiver, prior even to Mullins’ submission of his criticisms. It says Kyrkanides told Mullins that direction came “from the top.”
Mullins responded by saying he hadn’t been asked for an interview but had serious concerns about the waiver and intended to submit comments during the public comment period.
The comments included an explicit disclaimer that the comments did not represent the position of the university or the dental department.
The complaint says Bevin officials subsequently called Kyrkanides while he vacationed in Greece to share their displeasure and pressured him to retaliate against Mullins.
Mullins alleges in the suit that thereafter Kyrkanides conducted a series of conversations with Mullins and other UK officials indicating Mullins needed “to go off radar.” Mullins further alleges that Kyrkanides suggested to other faculty and officials during the fall of 2016 “to figure out how to get rid of Raynor Mullins.”
In January, Mullins was notified his post-retirement employment would not be renewed and Mullins was terminated in July of this year.
The suit alleges the defendants violated Mullins’ First Amendment rights to protected free speech and violated his civil rights. It seeks punitive and compensation damages.