In June, as the new, two-year state budget headed toward approval at the Statehouse, Speaker William Batchelder suggested that lawmakers would take up the missing piece of Medicaid expansion in the summer. On the table is the proposal of Gov. John Kasich to expand Medicaid coverage to a larger share of the poor, as established in the Affordable Care Act. Now Batchelder is talking about taking action by the end of the year.
There is an even later date in play — Feb. 5, or the filing deadline for the primary election. Put off action until then, and Republican lawmakers would be in better position to avoid primary opponents from the far right.
And when February comes and goes? The likelihood is, Republican legislative leaders would find yet another reason for delay. Thus, it is encouraging to see supporters of the Medicaid expansion beginning to mobilize more aggressively to put the question before voters next year in the form of a ballot issue. If their effort carries the element of seeking to apply pressure to Batchelder and his counterpart in the Senate, Keith Faber, it also enjoys broad support, from hospitals and others in the health-care community to business leaders and advocates for the poor and vulnerable.
Polls have shown that more than 60 percent of Ohioans favor the expansion, bringing health coverage to an additional 275,000 people in the state. Listen to the discussion the past six months, and it hardly rates as a leap to conclude that a bipartisan majority of House members supports the expansion. Might enough Republicans join Democrats in the Senate? Hard to resist the momentum when the House has echoed the governor in approval.
It may be that such a sequence will not unfold at the Statehouse. Which helps explain the poorly kept secret that the governor and his team have been exploring ways that would allow for him to maneuver around reluctant legislators and act on his own to achieve the expansion. On Friday, the Gongwer News Service noted the possibility of moving through the State Controlling Board.
What the governor understands, and long has argued, is the benefit to Ohio — beyond easing the burden for those up to 138 percent of the poverty level ($15,856 a year for a single person), many of them working yet lacking the means to purchase health insurance. Without the expansion, hospitals, major employers in regions, will feel much increased financial pressure, jobs at risk.
Many suffering from severe mental illnesses would get the consistent care they need, leading to productive lives. The Ohio Chamber of Commerce sees the expansion as an asset to the business climate. Ideally, the legislature would join this coalition. If not, then the governor and others have good reason to declare: Whatever it takes.