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COLUMBUS — Gov. John Kasich voiced concern Wednesday about the possibility that President Barack Obama’s signature federal health care law and its accompanying Medicaid expansion would be repealed outright in the new year, without provisions for needy residents.
In particular, the governor questioned the impact on drug addicts in the state who are receiving treatment services thanks to the expanded Medicaid support.
“I’ve heard a lot about repeal, I haven’t heard much about replace,” Kasich told reporters during a late afternoon press conference in his Statehouse ceremonial office. “… We are now able to provide health insurance to 700,000 people. A big chunk of them have very serious health issues. And a number of them, I think about a third…, have both addiction problems or mental illness… What happens to those 700,000 people? What happens to the drug treatment? What happens to the mental health counseling?”
Kasich also said he would be in Washington, D.C., later this month to participate in a round-table discussion on health care reform, including the Medicaid expansion.
“It’s a serious matter,” he said. “There’ a lot of improvements that can be made to the system, a lot of improvements that can be made to what’s happening in health care… But to repeal and not to replace, I just want to know what’s going to happen to all of those people who find themselves left out in the cold.”
Kasich offered the comments shortly before he signed SB 319, the latest legislation passed by lawmakers to combat the state’s ongoing heroin and prescription painkiller epidemic.
Among other provisions, the legislation establishes registration, education and other requirements for pharmacy technicians, with mandatory suspensions for those who become addicted to drugs.
The new law further widens access to naloxone, which is used to reverse the effects of drug overdoses, with authorizations for county health departments to use grant funds to purchase supplies for law enforcement and other emergency responders.
The legislation also limits supplies of opioids that can be provided to a patient at any given time. Additional language prohibits children services agencies from seeking custody of newborns if mothers enroll in drug treatment programs before the end of the 20th week of pregnancy, requires health care professionals to encourage drug treatment for pregnant patients, and seeks to provide increased access to addiction and mental health services for addicts.
Kasich said the law changes continue efforts by his administration to tackle drug addiction. A focus of state officials has been cutting down on the number of prescription painkillers provided to consumers, via increased tracking and reporting, prescribing guidelines and other efforts, with hopes of preventing opioid addictions and subsequent heroin use.
Kasich said the state has pumped nearly $1 billion into the drug prevention efforts, and his administration and lawmakers would continue to work on the issue.
But he urged residents, churches, community groups and others to join the fight, saying government agencies and increased spending alone would not stop drug abuse and the resulting overdose deaths.
“We can give the communities the tools…,” Kasich said. “But we’re not going to defeat this just from the top down. There’s a number of problems that we have in this country and in our state that have to be dealt with right in the neighborhood, right in the family, right in the community… It has to be a program where [drug use] is not tolerated… and where everybody begins to assume a little bit of responsibility for keeping somebody else out of the drugs, because drugs will kill you.”
He added, “Nobody is going to just show up and wave a magic wand from the U.S. Capitol, the White House or the Capitol here on Capitol Square, without the people in the trenches, the citizens in the trenches, making up their mind that we’re not going to tolerate this anymore.”
Marc Kovac is the Dix Capital Bureau Chief. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at OhioCapitalBlog.