John Kasich kept the rambling to a minimum, at least for him. In his State of the State address, the governor proved more disciplined, focused and thus effective. He is wired for hyperbole. So there were the usual exaggerations and pats on his own back: “awesome,” “fantastic,” “pretty breathtaking.” It was a sales pitch, yet it also served as a cogent defense of his record, framing the details within his larger vision of getting Ohio going.
This editorial page has its sharp disagreements with the governor about how best to move forward, especially his view that income tax cuts are a proven economic elixir, even when delivered at the expense of adequate investment in education and other priorities. Still, what stood out in his speech in Lima on Tuesday, the second time he has taken the event on the road, was his stirring argument for expanding Medicaid, the governor speaking powerfully for the state as a whole.
As he readily acknowledged, his decision to embrace this portion of the new federal health-care law is controversial. Many of his fellow Republicans loathe the idea, or just about anything involving Obamacare. Yet the expansion well serves the state, to such a degree that Democratic lawmakers would have good reason to support a budget bill that contains the change, no matter what they may not like, say, on taxes and school funding.
The governor clearly had Republicans in mind, reminding them, and rightly so, that he has credibility on this issue, a former budget committee chairman in Congress who understands how Medicaid works. That is plain in his ambitious and worthy effort to remake Medicaid in the state, eschewing the easy step of slashing services, choosing instead to press for quality care and savings.
In building his case, the governor then shifted to the practicality, or good sense. Ohio will contribute tax dollars to the expansion in any case. The governor stressed the return of $13 billion “to solve our problem,” or seize “a unique opportunity.” The expansion makes way for less use of expensive emergency room care, easing the cost-shifting, the insured picking up the tab for the uninsured.
The governor emphasized the stakes for rural hospitals as the federal government squeezes assistance to all hospitals for uncompensated care. He pointed to the “positive impact” for those with mental illness and addictions, the federal money putting the state and local communities in a better position to aid those who “live in the shadows of life … who are the least among us.”
Here the governor put the expansion in the context of his Christian values, stressing: “I will not accept the fact that the most vulnerable in our state should be ignored.” He hardly could have been more clear about the obligations we have to one another. Medicaid expansion promises to be a sound financial decision for the state, one independent analysis projecting savings of $1.4 billion by 2022. More important, as the governor emphasized, it is the right thing to do.