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Ohio Lawmakers Consider Multiple Medicaid Bills

Wednesday, June 19, 2013 at 9:54 AM

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Ohio lawmakers continue to grapple with the question of what to do with the Medicaid program. Gov. John Kasich, business groups and Democrats want the state to expand Medicaid as part of the budget. But conservatives in the legislature see that as buying into Obamacare and throwing good money into a flawed program. As Ohio Public Radio’s Jo Ingles reports, lawmakers are considering various bills to deal with the medical program for the poor in the future.

Ohio Gov. Kasich says he’s not giving up on expanding Medicaid.

KASICH: “It will either be in the budget or it will be later but I want to make this clear...I will not give up this fight ‘til we get this done. Period. Exclamation point. I’ve pleaded, I’ve argued, I’ve presented...It is what it is in this business. So I’m not going to give this up. I will not. I don’t care how long this takes. Hopefully it’ll be sooner rather than longer.  I’m going to do my best.”

The governor proposed expanding Medicaid in the budget so that 275,000 low-income, working Ohioans would be covered under the new federal Affordable Healthcare Act, or Obamacare, as it has been called. 

Kasich notes the way hospitals will be reimbursed will change under the new plan, and he says expanding Medicaid will ensure Ohio’s hospitals, and low-income residents, will get the maximum amount they can for medical care.

But leaders of the Republican-dominated General Assembly will not allow a vote on Medicaid expansion as a standalone bill, at least at this point. And they won’t include outright expansion as part of the budget in either the House or Senate. Mike Dittoe is a spokesman for Ohio House Speaker Bill Batchelder.

DITTOE: “We have two very complex, very labor-intensive bills that are going to require a lot of work by the members of the House and the Senate. This legislation, either one that the caucuses are going to look at will not be able to be completed by the time we adjourn for the summer here in just a week or so.”

One of the bills lawmakers are looking at would expand Medicaid to cover Ohioans earning up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level. Its sponsor, Republican Rep. Barbara Sears, says she’s put safeguards in place to make sure the federal government doesn’t leave Ohio holding the bill for the extended coverage in the future. And she says her plan would allow the state to make improvements to the Medicaid program.

SEARS: “This is a once in a lifetime opportunity to refocus our eligibility guidelines and our Medicaid program to allow us to look at Ohioans, working poor and provide hope for a more successful Ohio.”

Another bill lawmakers are considering has more sponsors at this point and is bipartisan. But it doesn’t expand Medicaid to working poor.  It focuses on making reforms to the Medicaid program to make it more efficient and to help low-income Ohioans get out of poverty.

House Finance Committee Chair Ron Amstutz, a sponsor of this bill, says it is considered to be a work in progress.

AMSTUTZ: “It’s a good bill. It has literally pieces and parts that came from members of the working group I believe.”

Mike Dittoe says House Speaker Batchelder isn’t opposed to coming back in the coming months to pass some sort of Medicaid plan.

In the meantime, however, backers of expansion say time is of the essence. They point out something needs to be in place soon so that Ohio can get the federal dollars it needs in January.

Gov. Kasich says he wants to see politicians put politics aside and do something soon to deal with the problem.

KASICH: This is not support of Obamacare.  This is a support of helping our communities, our health care system, the poor, the disabled, the addicted and the mentally ill.”

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