A group of civic-minded Ohioans wants to enable citizens to do directly what feckless state legislative leaders refuse to do: conduct a public vote on expanding the state’s Medicaid program of health insurance for low-income and disabled people.
The proposal is a poor substitute for prompt — and overdue — action by the Republican-controlled General Assembly, since such a referendum could not occur before next year. But if it keeps public attention focused on the legislature’s shameful default, it’s a useful exercise.
Healthy Ohioans Work, a coalition of medical providers, health-care and human service advocates, and labor unions, filed a petition this week with the Ohio Secretary of State’s office. That’s the first step toward a possible vote on Medicaid expansion in November, 2014.
Under the federal Affordable Care Act, the state can extend Medicaid eligibility to another 275,000 working-poor Ohioans — including 18,000 Lucas County residents and 26,000 veterans — starting next January. Washington would pick up nearly the entire tab for the expansion, giving the state $13 billion in aid over seven years.
The compelling case for Medicaid expansion has been stated repeatedly: Expansion would save the state money, generate tax revenue, create jobs, stimulate economic growth, reduce hospitals’ cost of uncompensated care, prevent cost shifting to people with private insurance and employers who provide it — and improve Ohio’s physical and mental health. Polls show more than three-fifths of Ohioans favor expansion.
And the case against? Republican lawmakers who face re-election next year are afraid of upsetting radical-right constituents and free-spending special-interest groups whose hatred of Obamacare — and the President who proposed it — is nearly pathological.
Such discontent might take the form of challenges to legislative incumbents in the 2014 GOP primary. What could be more important than preventing that?
Republican legislative leaders, notably House Speaker William Batchelder of Medina and Senate President Keith Faber of Celina, promise some sort of action on Medicaid at some ever-receding date. But they now talk about “reform” rather than expansion; that’s code for restricting Medicaid eligibility further through Draconian new restrictions, rather than extending coverage.
Even if voters approve the Medicaid expansion proposal in 2014, the state will have lost nearly $2 billion in federal aid, and eligible Ohioans a year of vital coverage. That’s an intolerable price to pay for lawmakers’ dereliction and pandering.
The longer the General Assembly refuses to act, the more it embarrasses Republican Gov. John Kasich, who proposed the Medicaid expansion. How much more such humiliation is the governor prepared to endure before he sits obstructionist legislative leaders down for his famous talk about getting on his bus or getting run over by it — or, in the alternative, figuring out a way of working around them?
Those lawmakers who oppose Medicaid expansion as a waste of tax dollars could set an example by renouncing their own tax-subsidized health insurance. Or have these politicians grown so comfortable with their hypocrisy that it’s become second nature to them?