Leg­is­la­tors con­sider Med­i­caid ex­pan­sion pro­tec­tion again

The Columbus Dispatch - - Metro&state - By Julie Carr Smyth

The Ohio House was again weigh­ing on Satur­day an over­ride of Repub­li­can Gov. John Ka­sich’s veto pro­tect­ing Med­i­caid ex­pan­sion, af­ter scrap­ping the idea in July.

A memo cir­cu­lat­ing among House Repub­li­cans said GOP Speaker Cliff Rosen­berger “would just like to see” where his cau­cus mem­bers stand now that ef­forts to re­peal the fed­eral health-care law in Wash­ing­ton ap­pear in­def­i­nitely stalled. The memo, ob­tained by The As­so­ci­ated Press, gave a re­ply dead­line of 5 p.m. Sun­day but added: “This does not mean the veto over­ride will be on the floor this week.”

Ka­sich ve­toed a bud­get pro­vi­sion June 30 that called for freez­ing new Med­i­caid ex­pan­sion en­roll­ment start­ing July 1, 2018, and pre­vent­ing those who drop off the pro­gram from re-en­rolling.

The 2016 pres­i­den­tial con­tender and de­trac­tor of Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump has been one of the most vo­cal cham­pi­ons na­tion­ally within the GOP of the ex­pan­sion. He ar­gues it should be viewed as dis­tinct from the Af­ford­able Care Act that made it pos­si­ble, a law that Repub­li­cans tried but failed to re­peal and re­place ear­lier this year.

In a dra­matic face­off with a same-party gover­nor, Rosen­berger’s cham­ber re­con­vened days af­ter the veto, ap­pear­ing poised to call an over­ride vote. But, though there was an over­ride of 11 other ve­toes, the vote on ex­pan­sion never came. With­out House ac­tion, the Ohio Se­nate also could not act.

Rosen­berger said at the time that his cham­ber had the 60 votes nec­es­sary to over­ride the veto. He said the vote didn’t go for­ward be­cause Repub­li­cans wanted first to give more time to see how the na­tional health­care de­bate would play out.

House spokesman Brad Miller said Satur­day that mem­bers have been in­quir­ing about the sta­tus of an over­ride vote since re­turn­ing to the State­house from their sum­mer break. He said a cau­cus meet­ing was held this week, but a vote isn’t im­mi­nent.

“I wouldn’t ex­pect any kind of ac­tion on this right away, at least for the month of Septem­ber,” he said.

More than 700,000 low-in­come adults are now cov­ered un­der Ohio’s ex­pan­sion, at a cost of al­most $5 bil­lion — most of which is picked up by the fed­eral govern­ment. The Ka­sich ad­min­is­tra­tion has es­ti­mated that 500,000 Ohioans could lose cov­er­age un­der a freeze within the first 18 months.

The memo lays out a stren­u­ous case against ex­pan­sion, in­clud­ing re­viv­ing some ar­gu­ments dis­puted dur­ing the orig­i­nal de­bate.

Law­mak­ers are told that, if they over­ride the veto, cov­er­age still would be avail­able un­der Med­i­caid ex­pan­sion for those di­ag­nosed with men­tal ill­ness or drug ad­dic­tion.

The Gover­nor’s Of­fice of Health Trans­for­ma­tion has said the fed­eral govern­ment will not al­low Ohio, or any state, to serve one spe­cific group and not oth­ers so, the state con­tends, ei­ther all those el­i­gi­ble will keep cov­er­age or lose it.

Repub­li­can state Rep. Bill Seitz, of Cincinnati, who fa­vors an over­ride, said Ohio won’t know whether the fed­eral govern­ment will al­low it to cover some, but not all, ex­pan­sion en­rollees un­til it makes the re­quest.

“All we’re ask­ing is that they ask,” he said. “Gover­nor Ka­sich doesn’t want to be seen as ask­ing Don­ald Trump for any fa­vors. Well, this is a Repub­li­can leg­is­la­ture that has over­rid­den Ka­sich that will be ask­ing the fed­eral govern­ment to act. So don’t think you’d be do­ing him (Ka­sich) any fa­vors, or os­ten­ta­tiously not do­ing him any fa­vors, by giv­ing us what we re­quest.”

House lead­ers are clearly con­cerned about cost, de­scrib­ing Med­i­caid spend­ing as “out of con­trol” in the memo. The doc­u­ment points to en­roll­ment that ex­ploded un­der the ex­pan­sion af­ter Ka­sich made his ini­tial end-run around law­mak­ers to adopt it. Though his ini­tial en­roll­ment es­ti­mates were around 447,000 par­tic­i­pants, roughly 725,000 Ohioans have signed up.

Another House Repub­li­can, state Rep. Larry House­holder, said Med­i­caid and the ex­pan­sion are eat­ing up Ohio’s bud­get.

“The num­bers are ter­ri­fy­ing,” House­holder, of Glen­ford, said. “We need to take back some of those re­sources and have them to spend on other things.”

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