Ohio Gov. Kasich saves his most poignant comments for Medicaid

by MARC KOVAC | CAPITAL BUREAU CHIEF Published:

Columbus -- Gov. John Kasich's State of the State speech last week in Lima went off as predicted.

There were no jaw-dropping announcements or policy proposals or anything resembling breaking news. From his opening about the family around the dinner table to his closing call to work together for the good of the state, it was all stuff we've heard before.

But there was one point in the roughly hour-long address to lawmakers that should have caught your attention, that being the portion where Kasich all but begged Republicans in the Ohio House and Senate to climb aboard the Medicaid expansion ship.

The benefits?

Some billions in federal funds -- tax dollars already being paid by Ohioans -- returned to the state.

Needy Ohioans -- many in those ranks are considered the "working poor," holding down steady jobs but still unable to afford health insurance -- getting access to medical care.

An expected reduction in emergency room visits, the means by which many poor Ohioans seek basic services at a cost that far exceeds conventional doctor's office visits.

The setup is not efficient, the governor said. It's not effective, he stressed. Plus, "It costs everybody more money when they do that because the emergency room's [are] the highest-cost operation you can get for health care. And it's not fair for them because they don't get healthier, so they're sicker and we pay for that as well."

Hard to argue with that, but some Republicans are balking at the Medicaid expansion, citing ever-growing federal spending and debt and their opposition to Obamacare, the federal affordable care act.

And that's where Kasich turned to his faith.

"I can't look at the disabled, I can't look at the poor, I can't look at the mentally ill, I can't look at the addicted and think we ought to ignore them," he said. "For those that live in the shadows of life, those who are the least among us, I will not accept the fact that the most vulnerable in our state should be ignored. We can help them. And I want all of you to think about this."

He added, "I respect the decision you're all going to make. I know it's controversial, just please examine your conscious, keep an open mind, and I think we can work and get there. I sure hope so. You know, we're an administration that thinks no one should be left behind. And, look, I think what's so great is we're growing jobs, our economy is stronger, we're running surpluses, our credit is up, we've got industries thriving, but we're not ignoring the weak... The Lord doesn't want us to ignore them."

The Republican leaders of the Ohio House and Senate praised Kasich following the speech, saying he has a vision and is showing strong leadership, but they stopped well short of endorsing the Medicaid expansion.

The issue will be central in the budget debate in coming weeks, with many Democrats supporting the move and many Republicans opposing.

While what he said at the State of the State wasn't new, it's hard to believe some of the latter weren't swayed by the governor's commentary on Ohioans in need.

Email Kovac at mkovac@dixcom.com or on Twitter at OhioCapitalBlog.

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