Politics

Ohio’s Kasich ignores legislature on Obamacare Medicaid funds

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W. James Antle III Managing Editor
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Ohio Gov. John Kasich will bypass the Republican-controlled state legislature to accept Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion, according to the Columbus Dispatch.

Although Kasich, a former star Republican congressman, has been repeatedly rebuffed by GOP lawmakers in Columbus, he will approach the seven-member Controlling Board for approval to spend $2.56 billion in federal funds to enroll  an additional 275,000 Ohioans in Medicaid, a state-federal entitlement that provides health care to people who claim lower incomes.

If the board’s two Democrats and its Kasich-appointed chairman vote in favor of the expansion, the governor will only need to persuade one of the four Republican members to secure a majority. Kasich had originally proposed accepting Obamacare’s additional Medicaid funds as part of his two-year budget, but the GOP-controlled Ohio House spurned the idea.

Opponents of the Medicaid plan have raised legal objections, noting that the Ohio Revised Code stipulates that the board “shall take no action which does not carry out the legislative intent of the general assembly.”

The expansion, part of President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act, would be 100 percent federally funded for the first three years. Proponents argue that the Buckeye State will reap an additional $13 billion in federal spending as a result.

Critics of the proposal point out that Ohio taxpayers will be stuck with the bill if the federal government reduces or ends its funding after the initial three-year period. Republicans in the legislature are not convinced the Medicaid expansion would then be rolled back, as some supporters claim.

Many other Republicans contend that the Medicaid expansion — which states may refuse according to the Supreme Court ruling that upheld Obamacare — may help entrench the controversial federal health care reform law.

The Ohio Medicaid expansion would cover people making up to 138 percent of the federal poverty line, which is $32,499 for a family of four.

Several studies have found that Medicaid beneficiaries experience poor health care outcomes, in some cases faring worse than the uninsured. Medicaid pays physicians significantly less than market rates. Consequently, many doctors don’t take Medicaid patients, which limits their access to quality care.

Nevertheless, Ohio hospitals have lobbied for the Medicaid expansion. The Universal Health Care Action Network and other groups promoted a 2014 Medicaid ballot initiative in case the legislature refused to budge.

Before he was elected governor in 2010, the Republican Kasich served nine terms in the U.S. House of Representatives. Kasich rose to chairman of the House Budget Committee in 1995, where he promoted a GOP budget that included entitlement reforms and $270 billion in cuts to Medicare’s rate of growth.

The proposed cuts triggered a standoff with President Bill Clinton, resulting in the government shutdowns of 1995-96. Kasich helped negotiate a 1997 budget agreement with Clinton that led to the first budget surpluses since the 1960s, but also created a new health care entitlement for children.

Kasich was a strong opponent of the Clintons’ health care reform proposal in 1994 and an advocate of welfare reform. He is often rumored to be interested in the 2016 presidential campaign, either at the top or the bottom of the Republican national ticket.

But this year, Kasich has even invoked the Almighty when asking Republicans to expand Medicaid.

“Now, when you die and get to the meeting with St. Peter, he’s probably not going to ask you much about what you did about keeping government small,” Kasich said he told a legislator. “But he is going to ask you what you did for the poor. You better have a good answer.”

Republican governors who have supported the Obamacare Medicaid expansion have encountered strong resistance from members of their own party in their state legislatures.

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