July 1, 2016

Partly sunny

Nonprofit: Expand Medicaid or lose billions

A nonprofit group lobbying for health care for the working poor is calling on the state Legislature to allow Ohio to join the expanded Medicaid program authorized by the federal Affordable Care Act.

Gov. John Kasich included the Medicaid expansion in his budget bill, but the Republican leadership in the House stripped the provision from the measure.

The nonprofit Advocates for Ohio’s Future held a telephone press conference Tuesday and said that failure to participate in the program would cost the state about $4 billion in federal funding and deny health insurance to 275,000 uninsured Ohioans.

“There’s an enormous amount of money that could be coming in and an enormous number of people who could benefit from the stability that the ability to manage their own health care would provide,” said Gail Clendenin, spokeswoman for the group.

The news conference included fact sheets showing the number of residents in each of Ohio’s 88 counties projected to gain health coverage by 2015 if the Medicaid expansion is approved.

Medina County would see and additional 2,800 residents, ages 19 to 64, covered, according to the fact sheets.

Clendenin said the federal government would pay 100 percent of costs for new Medicaid enrollees for three years and 90 percent for the next five years.

The federal government now pays 60 percent of Medicaid costs for existing members and that rate would continue for those residents.

Mike Dittoe, spokesman for House Speaker William Batchelder, R-Medina, said the speaker and Republican caucus pulled the Medicaid expansion from the budget bill because of concern the federal government might reduce funding for the program.

“We do not want to put Ohio on the hook for a possible problem down the line,” Dittoe said. “If we fund 275,000 to 300,000 people on Medicaid then have no funds, are we doing them a disservice?”

Dittoe said the Legislature is considering alternative proposals and has formed the Healthier Ohio Working Group from members of the House Finance Committee.

He said House Majority Leader Barbara Sears, R-Sylvania, has introduced legislation similar to Kasich’s and Ron Amstutz, R-Wooster, chairman of House Finance and Appropriations Committee, is drafting another proposal.

Rob Nichols, spokesman for Kasich, said the Republican governor still hopes his original proposal will be approved.

“We are pursuing it with great vigor because it’s the right policy, from both a compassion standpoint and from a fiscal standpoint,” he said.

Clendenin said her group recognizes the possibility of federal cutbacks but stressed: “We see that the money is guaranteed to be there for next three years and we see the opportunity is greater than the risk.”

Advocates for Ohio’s Future projects that if Medicaid is expanded, Ohio would see a 63 percent decrease in uninsured residents and a $31 million increase in sales tax revenue over the next two years.

Medina County would reduce its uninsured population by 53 percent and pull in an additional $175,000 in revenue, according to the group.

The Governor’s Office of Health Transformation projects that direct and indirect financial impact could save Ohio counties $39 million in fiscal year 2014 and up to $616 million by fiscal year 2020.

Contact reporter Dan Pompili at (330) 721-4012 or dpompili@medina-gazette.com.