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Tuesday, September 23, 2014
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Published: Wednesday, 7/10/2013 - Updated: 1 year ago

HEALTH COVERAGE FOR THE POOR

Kasich urges his party to expand Medicaid

GOP lawmakers resist governor’s appeal

BY JIM PROVANCE
BLADE COLUMBUS BUREAU CHIEF
Gov. John Kasich attends a rally in the Ohio Statehouse to explain why the legislature should extend Medicaid coverage. Gov. John Kasich attends a rally in the Ohio Statehouse to explain why the legislature should extend Medicaid coverage.
COLUMBUS DISPATCH Enlarge

COLUMBUS — Pushing against fellow Republicans to expand Medicaid to some 275,000 more Ohioans, Gov. John Kasich on Tuesday urged roughly 300 people rallying with him to knock on lawmakers’ doors and refuse to take “no” for an answer.

At the same time, the conservative organization Americans for Prosperity of Ohio is preparing to push back against expanding the federal-state health insurance of last resort.

And Democrats, who are with the governor in seeking the expansion, accused him of not doing enough to rouse sufficient GOP votes for passage.

“You all have a story,” Mr. Kasich told the crowd at the Statehouse. “You all have a purpose. Every single person here can help to make this happen, but you must go and see [lawmakers]. You must rally your friends and family to go and see them, and to make it clear that saying ‘no’ is not an option.”

The GOP-controlled General Assembly stripped his proposed Medicaid expansion from the $62 billion, two-year budget, but bipartisan bills have been introduced in both chambers to keep talks alive over the summer.

Greg Moody, director of the Governor’s Office of Health Transformation, said the administration needs a law in hand by the end of summer if it hopes to get the necessary federal approvals and take the other steps to get the expansion in place by Jan. 1.

That’s when a new federal mandate that most individual Americans have health insurance will kick in — whether by their employers, the private market, or Medicaid.

Lawmakers have gone home for the summer. It’s uncertain whether they’ll come back to deal with a Medicaid bill before their scheduled return in mid-September.

The governor has angered some conservatives within his own party by proposing to partner with the federal government under President Obama’s health-care law, a law most of them disdain.

Americans for Prosperity of Ohio will host a forum today with a pair of anti-expansion lawmakers in an attempt to blunt any momentum the expansion movement might generate.

“Medicaid expansion is an arm of Obamacare, and it will cost Ohioans millions of dollars,” said Eli Miller, the organization’s director. “We are going to educate the citizens of Ohio and let them know Medicaid expansion is not a good idea.”

But Mr. Kasich has found support from Democrats, a handful of Republican lawmakers, social-service advocates, some business groups, doctors, hospitals, veterans groups, and religous organizations in arguing for the expansion and the $13 billion in federal funds over seven years that it would bring.

The governor sought to undercut one of the arguments Republicans have used.

“Some of the folks who oppose this are worried about the debt of the national government,” Mr. Kasich said. “Everyone here worries about it … [The federal government’s] inability to solve a problem that ultimately will be solved in a responsible way should not prevent Ohio from reclaiming our dollars to deal with our problems.”

He has called on lawmakers to expand program eligibility to those earning as much as 38 percent over the federal poverty level. That would represent $32,000 a year for a family of four.

“Now is the time,” said Hancock County Sheriff Michael F. Heldman. “If an individual has access to treatment, we’re more likely to prevent the need for incarceration and/​or decrease the likelihood that they will recidivate. This is better for the individual and less costly for the state and local communities.”

Democrats, however, characterized Mr. Kasich’s appearance at the rally as little more than a public relations gimmick.

“It's just more talk from a governor who won't even pick up the phone,” wrote Ohio Democratic Party Chairman Chris Redfern in a fund-raising email. Mr. Redfern also would have a vote on the matter as a state representative for Ottawa and Erie counties.

“There are 39 Democratic votes in the Ohio House ready and willing to expand Medicaid with Kasich's help,” Mr. Redfern said. “He just needs to bring along 11 House Republicans and a handful of his Senate colleagues.”

Rep. Barbara Sears (R., Monclova Township), a supporter of the expansion, was a rare Republican legislator attending the rally.

Contact Jim Provance at: jprovance@theblade.com or 614-221-0496.



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