July 23, 2016

Partly sunny

Advocates back Ohio Gov. John Kasich’s Medicaid expansion

MEDINA — Local and state mental health advocates are urging legislators to support Gov. John Kasich’s commitment to expand Medicaid.

Mike Jenks, executive director of the  Medina County Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health Board, said the Medicaid expansion would help those who are waiting for services as well as those who lack resources to get services.

Mike Jenks

Tracy Plouck

“I think we all know that the lack of access to mental health services can lead to human tragedy,” he said.

The Medicaid expansion is tied to President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act. It covers up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level.

A single person with an income of up to $15,000 would be eligible for Medicaid under the expansion.

Gloria Tews, president of the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill — Medina County, said she knows personally about the high cost of treating mental illness.

She spoke about maxing out credit cards to pay for her son’s medications to manage his bipolar disorder following a manic episode in Seattle.

“By the grace of God, our son recovered,” she said. “He’s getting married next year.”

Tews said she would be meeting with Ohio House Speaker Bill Batchelder, R-Medina, who has said he is not ready to commit to expanding Medicaid to 275,000 more low-income Ohioans.

The House is expected to come out with its own version of Kasich’s budget proposal in April.

Others who spoke in support of the Medicaid expansion were Medina Mayor Dennis Hanwell, Medina County Sheriff Tom Miller, and Dr. Brad Williams, CEO of Solutions Behavioral Healthcare Inc.

Tracy Plouck, director of Ohio’s Department of Mental Health, described the expansion as “the most important policy objective that I’ve worked on in my career.”

Plouck spoke Wednesday at a community forum sponsored by the Medina County Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health Board.

Even though Medina County has a diverse economy and low unemployment, Plouck said a big challenge is getting people who have mental health issues or addiction to connect with available services.’

“This is going to help Ohio workers,” she said. “Federal dollars are going to be received, otherwise they will go elsewhere.”

She said the expansion would free up funding locally, because the local mental health board pays for clinical services for those who are not yet eligible for Medicaid. The money amounts to about $70 million statewide, Plouck said.

“This is more money, candidly, than we ever could have hoped for our communities,” she said.

Contact reporter Kiera Manion-Fischer at (330) 721-4049 or kfischer@medina-gazette.com.