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Government and Politics

Ohio's governor pledges a continued push to expand Medicaid
But GOP lawmakers say it won't happen soon

Jo Ingles
Gov. John Kasich says he hasn't given up on Medicaid expansion and won't.
Courtesy of State of Ohio
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Ohio lawmakers continue to grapple with the question of whether to expand Medicaid. Gov. Kasich, business groups and Democrats want the state to expand the health-care program for poor people as part of the budget. But conservatives in the Legislature see that as buying into Obamacare and throwing good money into a flawed program. As Ohio Public Radio’s Jo Ingles reports, lawmakers are considering various bills to deal with the medical program for the poor in the future.

LISTEN: Medicaid expansion battle plays out in Ohio

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Ohio Gov. Kasich says he’s not giving up on expanding Medicaid.

“It will either be in the budget or it will be later, but I want to make this clear: I will not give up this fight until we get this done. Period. Exclamation point.

“I’ve pleaded, argued, presented. … So I’m not going to give this up. I will not. I don’t care how long this takes.”

The governor proposed expanding Medicaid in the budget so that 275,000 low-income, working Ohioans would be covered under the new federal affordable health care act. Kasich notes the way hospitals will be reimbursed will change under the new plan and he says expanding Medicaid will ensure Ohio’s hospitals and low-income residents will get the maximum amount they can for medical care.

GOP lawmakers part with GOP governor
But leaders of the Republican-dominated General Assembly will not allow a vote on Medicaid expansion as a stand-alone bill. And they won’t include outright expansion as part of the budget -- in either the House or Senate.

Mike Dittoe is a spokesman for Ohio House Speaker Bill Batchelder.

“We have two very complex, very labor-intensive bills that are going to require a lot of work by the members of the House and the Senate. This legislation … will not be able to be completed by the time we adjourn for the summer in just a week or so.

One of the bills that lawmakers are looking at would expand Medicaid to cover Ohioans earning up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level. Its sponsor, Republican Rep. Barbara Sears, says she’s put safeguards in place to make sure the federal government meets its commitment to pay for nearly all of the extended coverage.  And she says her plan would allow the state to make improvements to the Medicaid program.

“This is a once in a lifetime opportunity to refocus our eligibility guidelines and our Medicaid program to allow us to look at Ohioans, working poor and provide hope for a more successful Ohio.”

Medicaid reform without expansion
Another bill lawmakers are considering has more sponsors at this point and is bipartisan. But it doesn’t expand Medicaid to working poor. It focuses on making reforms to the Medicaid program to make it more efficient and to help low-income Ohioans get out of poverty. House Finance Committee Chairman Ron Amstutz, a sponsor of the bill, says it is considered to be a work in progress.

“It’s a good bill. It literally has pieces and parts that came from members of the working group I believe.”

Mike Dittoe says House Speaker Batchelder isn’t opposed to coming back in the coming months to pass some sort of Medicaid plan. In the meantime, however, backers of expansion say time is of the essence. They point out something needs to be in place soon so that Ohio can get the federal dollars it needs in January. Gov. Kasich says he wants to see politicians put politics aside and do something soon to deal with the problem. 

“This is not support of Obamacare. This is a support of helping our communities, our health care system, the poor, the addicted, the disabled and the mentally ill.”


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