Legislators consider Medicaid expansion protection again
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.”