Ohio Gov. Kasich continues to push for Medicaid expansion

by MARC KOVAC | CAPITAL BUREAU CHIEF Published:

COLUMBUS -- Gov. John Kasich said Wednesday he will continue to push for an expansion of Medicaid eligibility, a day after House Republicans removed related provisions from biennial budget legislation.

"I couldn't be any clearer, I couldn't make any more speeches, I'm not in any way, shape or form going to shrink from my firm belief in this," Kasich told reporters Wednesday. He added later, "I would be delighted to figure out how to do this in some way, because if it doesn't get done, in my opinion, the mental health community, the addiction community, our veterans, our working poor are not going to get the help that I believe they need."

House Democrats, meanwhile, said they will introduce separate legislation containing the governor's Medicaid expansion plan, with hopes the GOP-controlled chamber will bring it up for a floor vote.

"The Democrats in the House support the bill," said Minority Leader Armond Budish, from the Cleveland area, who said he thought most of the 39-member caucus would vote in favor of the expansion. "I believe if it's allowed to come to the floor, it will pass."

Kasich proposed expanding Medicaid eligibility to Ohioans earning up to 138 percent of federal poverty level (about $15,400 per person or $23,050 for a family of four). The administration estimated move would leverage billions in federal Medicaid dollars, save the state more than $400 million in general revenue funds and ensure 275,000-plus additional low-income Ohioans will have coverage.

The plan won support of Statehouse Democrats and some Republicans in the Ohio House. But Tea Party and other conservative groups and many other House Republicans oppose the move, viewing it as an endorsement of federal health care mandates and out-of-control government spending.

GOP House Speaker Bill Batchelder said Tuesday that there is too much uncertainty from federal officials about Medicaid expansion to move forward with an Ohio plan.

Kasich acknowledged lawmakers' concerns Wednesday, but he said expanding Medicaid still is the right decision to make, citing the economic benefit to the state, the health benefits to needy residents and safeguards in the proposal that would allow Ohio to cancel the expansion if the federal government does not live up to its obligations.

"The fact is the federal government will take our money, our billions of dollars, and they will spend it on something else," he said, adding later, "If they walk away from their commitment, we're in a position to walk away."

Proponents of the Medicaid expansion will rally at the Statehouse today, with upward of 2,000 people expected to participate.

"We'll have to see how the people across the state feel about this," Kasich said. "I'm going to keep pushing for it, but I can't turn water into wine. It's not my calling."

Marc Kovac is the Dix Capital Bureau Chief. Email him at mkovac@dixcom.com or on Twitter at OhioCapitalBlog.

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