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With Medicaid Expansion Up for Renewal, Kasich Directors Find Stories to Make Case

Donna Ward speaks to an audience that included Kasich administration officials. (Karen Kasler / Ohio Public Radio)
Donna Ward speaks to an audience that included Kasich administration officials. (Karen Kasler / Ohio Public Radio)

Donna Ward, a 24-year-old from Mansfield, describes herself as a mother of a three-year-old -- and a recovering alcoholic and drug addict. She's emotional in talking about how she relapsed and sought treatment, which she would have had to pay for out-of-pocket without Medicaid expansion. She's now covered and celebrating six months of sobriety.

"I have my family back, I'm happy, I'm enjoying life, I'm able to spend quality time with my daughter," Ward said. "And without this new Medicaid expansion pack, none of this would have been possible for me. I wouldn't be where I am today."

Mark McCoy and his wife Lauren also live in Mansfield. He said they fell into what he calls the trap of drug addiction, which led to the loss of custody of their children and put Lauren in prison. But McCoy said they both got into rehab through Medicaid expansion last year.

"That's where everything started looking really good and our lives got back on track," McCoy said. "And through my addiction, I was unable to hold a job down. And now that I've had my addiction in check, I've been able to hold a job and I've had a job for seven months now."

Ward and the McCoys are among the 5 percent of people in Richland County on Medicaid. They told their stories of salvation through Medicaid expansion before a small crowd at the Hawkins Center, a strip of buildings housing various health agencies and those helping low-income people in Richland County.

Among those invited to listen: two Kasich administration agency directors who've led the push for Medicaid expansion. Tracy Plouck of the Department of Mental Health and Drug Addiction Services says these stories are the most compelling sort of advocacy.

"We have so many success stories in every single district around the state of Ohio," Plouck said, "and that impacts people who have jobs within the district, it impacts stable families or families that are rebuilding, and it impacts more positive lives for the children of these families."

Right now expansion is for paid totally by the federal government, but Ohio would have to start paying a share of that in the second year of the budget.

The budget includes funding for 451,000 Ohioans in Medicaid expansion. But as of Jan. 31, there were more than 492,000 people enrolled.

Greg Moody heads the governor's Office of Health Transformation, and said fewer people have enrolled in traditional Medicaid, which means the program overall is sustainable.

"We have revenue sources already built into the program that we think cover that," Moody said. "And because the program is so sustainable in its current form, even if the federal deal changed, we don't think it would create a crisis for the state. But one thing I want to point out is, in our agreement with the federal government, we got a protection that if the federal financial terms change, our program automatically shuts down."

If that happens, that could be a crisis anyone relying on Medicaid expansion to pay medical bills - whether for injuries, chronic diseases or treatment for mental illness and drug addiction.

Joe Trolian is the executive director of Richland County's Mental Health and Recovery Services, and he said many people will use medical treatment to get well and then get work, but he admits it's still early to talk about how many.

"By fiscal '17, I do expect to see us having some significant numbers of people coming off and getting back to work," Trolian said. "We have jobs in this community we can't fill. I've got people who need jobs. And so now we're working together to kind of bridge that gap."

Trolian said while the Kasich administration works to convince lawmakers of the benefits of Medicaid expansion, he and other local activists are trying to convince employers to give people another chance when they've burned bridges because of untreated addiction. But he says the stories of McCoy and Ward show it's working.

Nick Castele was a senior reporter covering politics and government for Ideastream Public Media. He worked as a reporter for Ideastream from 2012-2022.