Ohio Healthcare Debate

By: Todd Baucher Email
By: Todd Baucher Email
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UPDATE 9/18/2013 9:50 A.M.

Although it wasn't part of the state budget, there's still discussion about expanding Medicaid in Ohio.

It's an issue which divides Washington County's local representatives.

It's a proposal made to states to expand their own Medicaid programs - one considered a part of the Affordable Care Act.

Some states, including West Virginia, have said "no thanks" to the idea.

Others, including Ohio Governor John Kasich, tried to make it part of the state's budget before legislators collectively said "no".

Among them, Marietta Representative Andy Thompson, who cites the problems other states, such as Arizona, have had with expansion.

"They projected a number of people would be signing on to it, but most of the people came from folks leaving private insurance and going to Medicaid," Thompson says.

Thompson's Democratic colleague from southeast Ohio says there's been a misconception about who would benefit from the expansion.

She says it's not the traditional Medicaid recipient.

"The expansion group would include the working poor, so people who are working, but who don't have benefits provided to them through their employer, and can't afford to buy insurance through the private market," says State Representative Debbie Phillips.

A representative of the State Department of Medicaid, says provisions of Medicaid expansion will go into effect beginning in October, notably an on-line registration process.

Changes in determining eligibility for recipients are to begin in January.

The area's state senator says the plan is a necessity for a region long known for its low-income residents.

"If we don't provide that access to health care, everybody else is going to be saddled with those costs, as the federal government continues to decrease compensation for our hospitals over the next several years, those costs will get spread out to all of us," says Senator Lou Gentile.

Thompson says the best way to improve conditions for southeastern Ohio residents, is to focus on job growth for the region.

The state's attorney general has certified a petition filed by advocates for expanding Medicaid coverage in Ohio that could put the issue before voters next year.

The Ohio ballot board must now review the proposal before advocates can begin gathering the roughly 385,000 signatures needed to put the measure on 2014 ballots.

Supporters say they still hope that, before they go to the voters, the legislature will vote to approve Governor Kasich's proposal

It didn't make it into the state budget bill, but supporters of expanding Ohio's Medicaid program are still hopeful it will happen.

Governor John Kasich first proposed the idea earlier this year, but his fellow Republicans opposed it, and so far, it hasn't been adopted.

In particular, Marietta Representative Andy Thompson Tuesday called it - in his words - a key pillar of Obamacare - noting the expansion is paid for by the federal government for its first three years.

Supporters are trying to put the issue on next year's statewide ballot, if the legislature doesn't enact it first.

But elements of the expansion of the program to low-income people will go into effect as soon as next month.

State Attorney General Mike DeWine last week gave preliminary approval to the ballot issue, which must now get the ok from the state ballot board before supporters can collect signatures to put it before voters.

Thompson says he is concerned the funding for the expansion will run out by the end of this decade, leaving the program bankrupt.

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