Bipartisan Bill May Be Path Forward for Medicaid Expansion in Ohio

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Here’s what the bill would do, according to the lawmakers behind it:

It would measure health outcomes, it would integrate workforce development to help people out of poverty and it would contain costs by requiring lawmakers and the governor to make sure Medicaid doesn’t grow faster than certain benchmarks.

Republican Sen. Dave Burke of Marysville says it deals with a problem that the state has been wrestling with for three decades.

BURKE: “Regardless of the Affordable Care Act or President Obama or whatever fear people have on things, covering the working poor in the state of Ohio has been an issue for a long time, and it has not been affordable to do so. “

The bill’s other sponsor is Democratic Sen. Capri Cafaro, from Hubbard near Youngstown.

CAFARO:“This is a very important signal that we are working in a bipartisan, bicameral way toward serious reforms. And if we are going to take on new beneficiaries into the program, we want to make sure it’s the best program available.”

There, Cafaro hints at what the bill does not do -- it does not expand Medicaid to some 300,000 low-income Ohioans. That’s what Gov. John Kasich had wanted, and it would happen under a bill introduced in the House by Republican Rep. Barbara Sears of Sylvania -- a bill that has no cosponsors, in part because there are serious concerns about Medicaid expansion among Republicans who dominate the legislature.

But a measure similar to this Medicaid reform bill will be introduced in the House by Republican Ron Amstutz of Wooster and Democrat Vernon Sykes of Akron -- the top names on the House Finance Committee.

Col Owens is co-chair of Ohio Consumers for Health Coverage, a group that has been pushing for Medicaid expansion, and Owens says it appears this is the Medicaid approach for now.

OWENS: “It’s a more complicated process than we would have preferred, but we understand that we are dealing here in a bipartisan world and with a very broad array of concerns. We’re still hopeful that this can be done by June 30.”

June 30 is a critical deadline, Owens says, because the state needs six months to get Medicaid expansion moving to capitalize on the billions of federal dollars that could come to Ohio.

OWENS: “Every day that we don’t do Medicaid expansion, we would be losing something like $1.4 million dollars a day of federal money as we delay beyond January 1.”

But Cafaro and Burke say the process can’t be rushed.

CAFARO: “I certainly don’t think we’re going to lose -- this is again a signal that we are working together towards a solution.”

Owens and other activists continue to push for Medicaid expansion as a win for low-income Ohioans, for health care providers, for employers and the state’s economy.

But there’s a new report from the conservative think-tank Opportunity Ohio and a Florida based foundation that asks lawmakers to reject Medicaid expansion because it says the system is rife with waste, fraud and abuse, because it doesn’t help people get healthier and because it would cost the state billions.

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