COLUMBUS: Gov. John Kasich said Wednesday he will continue to fight for extending Medicaid coverage under the federal health-care law, a day after his fellow Republicans removed the proposal from the state budget.
Kasich told reporters he doesn’t take it personally that GOP leaders in the Ohio House dropped the expansion from their version of the two-year budget proposal Tuesday.
“I just profoundly disagree,” he said. “I couldn’t state my position any clearer on this.”
House Democrats said Wednesday they would try to bring the governor’s plans for Medicaid expansion to a vote. They introduced a separate bill that mirrors Kasich’s proposal to extend the federal-state program to provide health coverage to more low-income residents.
The bill’s co-sponsor, state Rep. John Carney of Columbus, said he has talked to about a dozen Republicans who potentially could vote in favor of the legislation.
Asked whether the measure has a chance, House Speaker William Batchelder told reporters he didn’t know.
“We’d have to do a head count that was pretty binding,” the Medina Republican said.
Under the new federal law, states can opt out of an expanded Medicaid program. If the state chooses to go forward with expansion, roughly 366,000 Ohioans would be eligible for health coverage, beginning in 2014. In addition, the state would see $13 billion from the federal government over the next seven years to cover those newly eligible.
Kasich in February proposed going forward with expansion, contending that it was the way for the state to recapture Ohio taxpayers’ federal money to provide medical care for those who were most vulnerable.
“I want Ohio tax dollars to come back here to deal with Ohio’s problems,” the governor repeated Wednesday.
Instead, Republican lawmakers added $100 million for mental health and addiction services for the two-year fiscal term that begins July 1.
Kasich said he was pleased the House recognized that those who suffer from mental illness or drug addiction need extra help. “But this is not enough, as far as I’m concerned,” he told reporters.
Also Wednesday, Batchelder backed off a remark he made that some of the House Republicans “might shoot themselves before they voted for [Medicaid expansion].” He told reporters he was tired and didn’t recall making the comment.
“But if I did, obviously, it was stupid,” he said.
Batchelder made the remark Tuesday, and the National Alliance on Mental Illness of Ohio responded critically in an emailed statement Wednesday.
“Although maybe unintentional — words hurt,” the group said. “Linking this statement to the demise of services that could prevent people from wanting to take their own life is unconscionable.”
Batchelder said the GOP caucus has been working to increase state assistance in the mental health and addiction areas of the budget.
The federal Affordable Care Act is using health insurance exchanges to allow higher-income people to buy health plans. But without the Medicaid expansion, a group of people would likely go uncovered. With the expansion, an adult without children earning up to $15,415 can be added to Medicaid.
The federal government offers a major incentive: It has agreed to pay the entire cost of the expansion for three years and gradually phase down to paying 90 percent of the cost, still well above Ohio’s current level of 64 percent.
Many Republican lawmakers are averse to Democratic President Barack Obama’s law and resistant to expanding government programs. They have cited concerns about increasing the national debt and fears that the money from Washington could be cut off.
Batchelder said he didn’t know where Washington would get the money to fund the expansion. And he said, “If for some reason, we were assured that we could get out of this thing when it turns upside down, that would be a different matter.”
More state spending
Kasich encouraged health-care providers, mental health advocates and other outside groups to talk to their legislators about the importance of Medicaid expansion.
“How many more speeches can I make about how strongly I feel about it?” he asked.
Kasich administration figures show that forgoing Medicaid expansion would lead to $504 million in additional state spending. That figure includes the $100 million House Republicans are providing to mental health and addiction services. It also takes into account the administration’s estimate that Medicaid expansion would save the state roughly $404 million over the two-year budget period.
Batchelder said he hadn’t seen those estimates, and the House didn’t have their own figures for comparison.