COLUMBUS: Ohio’s Republican governor announced Monday he will push for expanding Medicaid under the federal health-care law, a move that would give many more poor people access to government care.
It also sets up a potential fight among Gov. John Kasich and Republicans who control the state legislature and are strongly against President Barack Obama’s health-care law.
The state anticipates more than 365,000 Ohioans will be eligible for coverage beginning in 2014 by expanding Medicaid, the health program for the poor that already provides care for one of every five residents in the state.
A broad group of Ohio’s doctors, hospitals and health providers back the idea, as does the Ohio AARP.
Kasich, who last summer called the federal health overhaul a “massive new tax on the middle class,” proposed the Medicaid expansion in his two-year budget plan released Monday. He now must persuade Republican state lawmakers to back the plan even though many dislike the law’s mandated coverage and campaigned against it just a few months ago.
Kasich reiterated his opposition to what he called “Obamacare,” saying “I don’t believe in the individual mandate.”
“But I think that this makes great sense for the state of Ohio,” he added.
If Ohio doesn’t extend Medicaid, his administration said, federal tax dollars would be used to expand health coverage in other states and give businesses elsewhere a competitive advantage by creating a healthier workforce.
The leader of the Ohio House has said his fellow Republicans have concerns about the expense of expanding Medicaid. House Speaker William Batchelder, of Medina, told reporters the idea also poses philosophical questions for lawmakers who oppose the law’s mandate that almost everyone obtain health insurance.
Kasich said he views the Medicaid expansion decision separately from the law’s mandate, and he was hopeful lawmakers would set their ideology aside.
“This is not an endorsement of Obamacare,” he said.
Still, he acknowledged that debate on extending Medicaid coverage wouldn’t be without its legislative fireworks.
“You’re going to have a lot of fun stories to write over the course of the next several months,” Kasich told reporters at his budget briefing.
The federal government will pay the entire cost of the Medicaid expansion for the first three years, gradually phasing down to 90 percent — still well above the current level of 64 percent. Even at those generous rates, however, some GOP governors and state legislatures say they fear being stuck with long-term costs.
Ohio will see an influx of $2.4 billion in federal funds over the next two years beginning in July to cover those who are newly eligible, the administration said.
Separate changes to eligibility for Medicaid will mean that almost 91,000 who are covered by Medicaid will be dropped from the program.
The state also expects to net $235 million because of a boost in tax revenue, plus additional savings from proposed Medicaid eligibility changes and savings on medical care for prisoners.
Kasich joined Arizona Republican Gov. Jan Brewer in calling for expansion. Several other GOP governors have said they will not go forward, including Rick Perry in Texas, Bobby Jindal in Louisiana and Nikki Haley in South Carolina.