Ohio Governor Backs Medicaid Expansion
By Jim Malewitz, Staff Writer
Governor John Kasich will press lawmakers to expand Ohio’s Medicaid system, he said Monday (February 4), becoming the fifth Republican governor to endorse that key component of President Obama’s controversial health law.
If backed by the Republican-controlled legislature, the plan would substantially whittle down the number of uninsured Ohioans, currently at 1.5 million, and bring the president closer to his goal of covering 17 million low-income adults.
Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius called Kasich’s announcement “a great step forward.”
The governor’s proposal, which came as he unveiled his two-year budget, would expand Medicaid eligibility to adults making at or below 138 percent of the federal poverty level. Currently, only adults who are disabled or have children qualify. That would add some 275,000 previously ineligible Ohioans to rolls within the first year, while prompting another 230,000 who are currently eligible to sign up, Kasich estimates.
Echoing Arizona Governor Jan Brewer, a fellow Republican who had long crusaded against the federal law but is now backing Medicaid expansion, Kasich emphasized that he would like to see the law repealed, but the federal money it would pump into the state — about $13 billion over the next seven years — was too much to pass up.
The federal government has promised to provide a 100 percent spending match on the newly eligible over the next three years, phasing that down to 90 percent in 2020.
“This is the right decision for Ohio,” Kasich said, according to Ohio Public Radio. “It’s our money. Let’s bring it home.”
Along with Brewer, Kasich joins Republican governors in Nevada, New Mexico and North Dakota in endorsing Medicaid expansion. Health advocates hope Kasich’s decision will prompt more Republicans to follow suit.
Fourteen governors have said they oppose expansion, arguing states can’t depend on the federal government to keep its promises to fund the program in the long term.
Both Kasich and Brewer have said they would roll back eligibility should federal money fall below what was promised — what Brewer called a “circuit breaker” — though that’s a move neither would likely want to make.
In most states, the proposals require legislative approval. Selling expansion to Republican-controlled legislatures in states like Arizona, Ohio and North Dakota could be difficult. Lawmakers in such states have been hostile to most, if not all aspects of the president’s health overhaul.