The federal government has offered the states a deal that might sound too good to be true: Starting next year, eligibility for Medicaid health-care coverage will be expanded to households that earn as much as one-third more than the federal poverty level. A family of four now needs to make less than $23,550 a year to qualify; this would increase to $31,322.
Medicaid expansion would mean, Gov. John Kasich estimates, that 275,000 more Ohioans would be covered almost immediately. Because the federal government would pay for nearly all of the expansion, the cost to the state would be nothing for three years, slowly rising to 10 percent starting in 2020.
The savings to the state budget would be tremendous — $1.4 billion over nine years, according to an Ohio State University study. Hospitals, employers, and people with insurance would also benefit, because they no longer would carry the cost burden of uninsured patients’ uncompensated care.
Incredibly, the General Assembly has failed to seize this opportunity. Republican ideologues oppose any expansion of federal health care and say they distrust Washington’s promise to pay.
For once, Columbus could do well to look to Lansing. Medicaid expansion in Michigan seemed hopelessly jammed, until legislators came up with a creative compromise: After four years, newly eligible Medicaid recipients would have to pay a fee. The bills are still in process, and Washington would have to grant Michigan a waiver to make this change.
Still, our neighbors to the north seem intent on making this work. Ohio’s lawmakers should do the same.