Ohioans owe a debt of gratitude today to two Republican state lawmakers, Rep. Ross McGregor and Sen. Chris Widener, both of Springfield. They cast the decisive votes Monday to authorize the first phase of an expansion of Ohio’s Medicaid program — an act that will save lives, make our state healthier, improve its economy, and reduce insurance costs for employers and people with private coverage.
The lawmakers are members of the state Controlling Board, which voted to accept federal money to extend eligibility in the Medicaid health-insurance program to 275,000 more Ohioans, most of them working-poor. The federal Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, will pay almost all the cost of the expansion.
Republican Gov, John Kasich brought the matter before the appointed seven-member board, which makes adjustments to the state budget, after the GOP-run General Assembly shamefully ignored for eight months his plea to enact Medicaid expansion. Along with the two Republicans, two Democratic lawmakers and Mr. Kasich’s representative on the board also voted for the expansion. Two other GOP legislators opposed it.
The virtues of Medicaid expansion should not get lost amid petty politicking. It will create jobs, increase tax revenue, and save the state money. It will curb the shifting of medical costs from uninsured people, who go to hospital emergency rooms for treatment they can’t afford, to people with insurance.
Many GOP lawmakers instead advocate “reforms” that would restrict, rather than expand, Medicaid eligibility. They often oppose expansion because they are less interested in doing the right thing for Ohio than they are in avoiding primary-election competition next year.
Tea Party extremists and free-spending anti-Obamacare interest groups have intimidated these lawmakers into believing that a vote for expansion would end their careers. Reasonable voters of both parties should penalize, not reward, such craven behavior.
Opponents contend the Controlling Board vote violates the state Constitution because it defies the intent of the legislature, which included language in the new state budget that prohibited Medicaid expansion without lawmakers’ approval. Mr. Kasich properly vetoed that provision.
The constitutional issue is for courts to decide; a lawsuit appears inevitable. Meanwhile, the Kasich administration must proceed with its plans if the expansion is to begin on schedule next Jan. 1.
Critics assailed the last-minute addition of Mr. McGregor and another state House Republican to the Controlling Board, evidently to ensure a positive vote. They replaced two GOP lawmakers who are competing to become the next House speaker. Such machinations didn’t occur in a political vacuum.
Nearly two-thirds of House Republicans — including current Speaker William Batchelder — sent a letter to the governor last week opposing his use of the Controlling Board to enact the Medicaid expansion. Yet had Mr. Batchelder permitted the full House to vote on expansion, a coalition of Democrats and moderate Republicans likely would have approved it.
Like his counterpart in Washington, John Boehner, Mr. Batchelder appears to believe his title is Speaker of the House Republicans. In the meantime, GOP lawmakers can be relieved that the Controlling Board vote took them off the hook.
If political loyalty means anything to Mr. Kasich — and it does — he will do everything he can to help GOP lawmakers who face electoral challenges next year from the radical right. Meanwhile, Mr. McGregor and Mr. Widener have set an example of political courage that their GOP legislative colleagues would do well to — but won’t — emulate.