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Published: Friday, 4/12/2013

2,500 rallyfor Medicaid expansion

Unions praise governor,fight Ohio House GOP

BY JIM PROVANCE
BLADE COLUMBUS BUREAU CHIEF
Demonstrators support a Medicaid expansion outside the Ohio Statehouse in a rally urging state lawmakers to extend Medicaid coverage under the federal health care law. Ohio House Republicans cut the expansion from the budget. Demonstrators support a Medicaid expansion outside the Ohio Statehouse in a rally urging state lawmakers to extend Medicaid coverage under the federal health care law. Ohio House Republicans cut the expansion from the budget.
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COLUMBUS — Union members shouted “Thank you, Gov. Kasich.” Democrats carried signs praising Rep. Barbara Sears, the staunch Lucas County Republican.

The effort to expand eligibility for the federal-state health insurance program of last resort has made for strange bedfellows as demonstrated by the roughly 2,500 who rallied in the rain Thursday outside the Statehouse.

“Mr. Speaker, Mr. President, health care works!” they chanted in protest of House Republicans’ decision to strip the Medicaid expansion from the two-year budget bill set to come to a vote in that chamber next week.

The move placed them at odds with their own governor and some of their own traditional constituencies like the Ohio Chamber of Commerce, Ohio Right to Life, doctors, and hospitals.

“This is not good news, and even with the additional funds that were in the alternative budget for mental health, we really need Medicaid expansion passed,” said Jean Drees, director of marketing for Harbor behavioral health center in Toledo.

She praised State Rep. Barbara Sears (R., Monclova Township), a member of the House Finance and Appropriations Committee. Like Mr. Kasich, another staunch opponent of President Obama’s signature health-care reform law, Ms. Sears broke with her caucus to oppose removing the Medicaid language from the bill.

“I believe when you get down to the bottom of this, we can’t leave the funds on the table, and we don’t want the money going to other states,” Ms. Drees said.

“It is what it is, and I think she’s aware that it’s a lot of money that we’ll be turning our noses up at. There are people in need.”

Mr. Kasich has proposed partnering with the federal government to expand income eligibility for Medicaid to those earning up to 38 percent above the federal poverty line, a move expected to add 275,000 during the two-year budget cycle.

Such a move is expected to make $13 billion in federal subsidies available to Ohio over the next seven years.

The federal government has pledged to pick up 100 percent of the costs of the expansion for three years and then gradually reduce that to 90 percent.

Erie County Commissioner Peter Schade said the expansion could mean health coverage for 160,000 in its target area, which also includes portions of neighboring counties.

The expansion is supported by the associations representing county commissioners and county health centers.

“The No. 1 issue on Medicaid expansion, as we see it, is a healthier community…,” he said.

“To the general public, they need to hear that. They need to hear that if we can get the work force proactively healthy, maintaining screenings, being able to be employed and come to those better industrial-based jobs, then we’re going to be okay. Because right now that’s a huge inhibiting factor in the state of Ohio.”

Ted Stevenot, president of the Ohio Liberty Coalition, the closest group to a statewide tea party organization, monitored the rally. But he argued the crowd does not represent the majority of Ohioans.

He cited the 2011 vote that amended the Ohio Constitution to protest government intrusion into health coverage.

“Sixty-six percent of Ohioans voted to say no to Obamacare and the federal government takeover of health care in Ohio, so in my mind that’s the majority,” he said. “Think about that. That’s the same day people came to say no to S.B. 5 [the rejected collective bargaining law]. That’s a bipartisan coalition of Republicans and Democrats. That passed in all 88 counties of Ohio….

“This violates every principle we stand for,” he said.

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


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