Ann Sanner

COLUMBUS: Ohio Gov. John Kasich dropped hints Thursday about whether he’ll push to expand Medicaid under the federal health care law to cover more poor people in the state.

While the Republican governor would not reveal his plans, he did say that he views the expansion decision separately from the law he and others often call “Obamacare” and its mandate for almost everyone to obtain health insurance.

Kasich is expected to decide soon whether Ohio should opt for Medicaid expansion under the law, the signature legislation of Democratic President Barack Obama’s administration. The governor plans to make the decision known when he unveils his two-year state budget proposal on Monday.

Speculation around the Statehouse is that Kasich is leaning toward expansion.

“I think probably many of you suspect what I’m going to do,” Kasich told reporters Thursday. “If you’ve followed me for the last couple of years, and as you’ve gotten to know me better, you kind of know how I feel about things like this.”

The federal government will pay the entire cost of the Medicaid expansion for the first three years, gradually phasing down to 90 percent of the cost after that. Even at those generous rates, however, some GOP governors and state legislatures say they fear being stuck with long-term costs.

Ohio was among 26 states that sued to overturn the law.

While the U.S. Supreme Court last year upheld the heart of the overhaul, it allowed states to decide whether to expand Medicaid.

Ohio officials have been weighing the long-term impact and potential costs of expanding Medicaid against the possible savings.

A recent study said Ohio stands to make $1.4 billion during the next decade with the expansion. But most of that revenue would come during the first years of an expanded Medicaid program and eventually level off as the state’s share of the costs increase.

The analysis says Ohio would save money in 2014 because the federal government would pay a much higher share of Medicaid costs for newly eligible adults. The state also would see an increase in sales and health insurance tax revenues, the report said.

About 456,000 uninsured Ohioans would gain health care coverage by 2022 under the expansion, according to the study from the Health Policy Institute of Ohio, a nonpartisan policy organization.

“I don’t view this as Obamacare at all,” Kasich said Thursday during a legislative preview session for journalists organized by The Associated Press. “Obamacare, you know, involving an individual mandate, I don’t support. ... But this is a different issue. This is about people who are at the lower economic end.”

Kasich said a top concern for him in weighing a possible Medicaid expansion is whether the state can trust the federal government to continue picking up the bulk of program costs.