COLUMBUS — The Medicaid dance continued on Thursday in the Ohio General Assembly with the introduction of a pair of bills that may or may not serve as a path to expansion of the program.
Meanwhile, a six-member conference committee charged with fashioning a compromise between differing Senate and House versions of a two-year budget abruptly canceled its first meeting. It was supposed to get updated revenue and spending projections from Gov. John Kasich’s budget director to see if lawmakers might have more money to play with.
It will now meet Tuesday.
The Republican governor broke with the conservative element of his party to propose expansion of eligibility for Medicaid under the federal health-care law, providing coverage in the proposed budget for those earning as much as 38 percent over the federal poverty level. That’s roughly $32,000 a year for a family of four.
The expansion was expected to cover an additional 275,000 Ohioans, including an estimated 18,356 in Lucas County, over the next two years. The federal government has promised $13 billion in subsidies to Ohio over seven years, covering all the costs for three years, then gradually dropping to 90 percent.
But neither the House nor Senate-passed versions of the $61.7 billion budget contains the expansion. Identical bills introduced in both chambers Thursday wade into Medicaid waters independently of the budget, but they ignore expansion in favor of cost-containment and work-development initiatives.
“We have been able since 1965 to cover additional lives in Medicaid, but we have not done so because it is not affordable,” said Sen. David Burke (R., Marysville), who sponsored the Senate bill with Sen. Capri Cafaro (D., Hubbard).
“I think that before we have that discussion, we have to make it affordable,” he said. “The first part of the conversation has to be bending that cost curve.”
The bill would tie growth in the Medicaid program to the medical component of the cost-of-living index. It would require a new 10-member, legislative Joint Medicaid Oversight Committee to work to keep costs within those goals.
Among the bill’s proposed reforms are removal of Medicaid eligibility requirements seen as barriers to employment and employer-provided health insurance, reduced rehospitalizations, and better information for recipients about Medicaid services.
“This legislation represents a first step toward providing health coverage to more Ohioans, especially the working poor and veterans,” said Ms. Cafaro, an expansion supporter.
Hearings will also begin next week on a separate compromise proposed by Rep. Barbara Sears (R., Monclova) that would link some similar initiatives with the expansion. Like Mr. Kasich, she believes the expansion makes financial sense for the state. She said she hopes the latest bills will come full circle back to expansion. “I believe the expansion is in there at some point,” the No. 3 House Republican said. “It needs to be.”
Contact Jim Provance at: email@example.com or 614-221-0496.