Democrats in the Ohio House have had little influence in recent months in deciding Medicaid policy. On Thursday, they made a bold and valiant play to keep alive the option of expansion. With a day left before the state legislature exits for summer, the minority party launched a discharge petition, aiming to collect 50 signatures in the 99-member House to create the option of John Kasich calling a special session on a Medicaid expansion bill. The shame is, the odds are against them. The last-ditch effort offered the governor a tiny window of opportunity to salvage a proposal he has pushed with strong public support.
The governor has highlighted the wide-ranging benefits of Medicaid expansion, among them: coverage for an estimated 275,000 uninsured, low-income Ohioans; more help for people with mental illnesses; $13 billion in federal funding; thousands of jobs created in health-care and related markets; financial relief for providers of health services, including hospitals and county agencies. Polls have found a large majority of Ohioans support an expansion as do businesses.
Yet, holding out for “reform” legislation at a later date, the governor’s fellow Republicans, House Speaker William Batchelder and Senate President Keith Faber, practically have run out the clock on framing a bill that would position Ohio for expansion on the federal schedule.
The Democrats’ petition grew out of frustration at what appears very much to be a strategy of delay until the momentum for expansion dissipates. The legislative leaders have shown little sense of urgency to address the effects on individuals and the state economy of inadequate access to health care. Instead, they have raised fears about the federal deficit and the possibility of a federal failure to pay its share. It has made no difference that Kasich’s plan included the option to pull out should Washington not meet its obligation.
Earlier this week, the Republican majority on the conference committee voted to retain language in the budget bill that prohibits Ohio from expanding Medicaid. The promise of the discharge comes in the opportunity for the governor to persuade a small band of Republican allies to step up.