Ohioans who favor expanding Medicaid have not had much luck at the Statehouse. Both chambers struck out of the current budget a proposal by Gov. John Kasich to implement a federal option, with generous funding, to expand the health program for the lowest-income families. So far, what has passed for progress on the issue has been the governor’s veto of language in the budget that would have barred Ohio from signing up for expansion at a future date.
Bipartisan bills for expansion introduced in both the House and Senate got nowhere as the legislative summer break approached. A petition process, a last-ditch effort that would have required Kasich to call a special summer session on Medicaid, also fizzled without essential Republican support.
Thus, with a few months to go before the federal option kicks in on Jan. 1, Ohioans have only promises from House and Senate leaders of reviews of the Medicaid program and bills that may be ready for consideration sometime.
House leaders, for instance, appear to be gearing for a long-drawn process that will cover “way more than Medicaid.” Ron Amstutz, who chairs the House Finance & Appropriations Committee, spoke Monday about a dozen or more bills in the hopper that are not far along enough yet for “that conversation that’s so divisive” — namely expanding Medicaid to those made newly eligible by the federal law. He anticipates action by Oct. 1.
In the state Senate, Keith Faber, the president, has pointed to subcommittee hearings on Medicaid scheduled during this summer, with discussions to follow, possibly in the fall. But he added, “Whether we’re ready to act on it or not is a different question.”
Lost in the legislative waffling on how soon Ohio should act on expansion is that there is an urgency to the decision. Thousands of working-poor Ohioans stand to benefit from Medicaid expansion. So does the state economy as a whole. Decide early enough, and the state gains the full 100 percent federal funding for three years for the newly eligible. More, it would allow for better planning to enroll, beginning Oct. 1, those who will need coverage in the new health exchanges.
Projections from state data indicate that without expansion, the state share of Medicaid spending will reach $17.4 billion by 2025 at the current rate of spending growth. That share drops to $14.2 billion with expansion, if the state does not miss any year of the federal matching rates.
Impatient at the lack of action, Sen. Capri Cafaro, a Hubbard Democrat, introduced her own Medicaid expansion bill on Tuesday, urging lawmakers to set aside “the cowardice and fear” and move the legislation. Harsh words? To be sure. Understandable frustration? Yes.