Working Poor Struggle With Health Care Costs As Lawmakers Debate Medicaid Expansion

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Greta Walton works a minimum wage job, long hours, while caring for a niece.  She suffers from high blood pressure, but because she doesn't qualify for Medicaid, she's choosing each month between food, child care and her medicine.

"We're just trying to survive.  We are the working class people," said Greta.  "I never miss work.  I go to work sick.  I go to work hungry sometimes. It's not fair."

Greta does receive free healthcare at one of several Health Stations in central Ohio operated by Mount Carmel Health.  But it doesn't cover everything, including prescription costs.

"I even thought about taking pills every other day to try to stretch it, but the doctor said you cannot do that with high blood pressure," said Greta.

Ohio lawmakers are now debating whether to extend Medicaid coverage to anyone earning up to 133 percent of the federal poverty level.  Ohio estimates that with Medicaid expansion, an additional 275,000 people, many working poor, would qualify.

Lisa Grady from Mount Carmel Health said the costs to taxpayers if Greta goes to the emergency room for her primary healthcare are significantly higher.

"The biggest thing for Greta is that Medicaid expansion includes prescription coverage," said Grady.  "That's not o.k. for anyone to live like this.  These are people working, trying to do the right thing."

Republican House budget chairman Ron Amstutz said waiting on expansion is a good idea as Ohio lawmakers compile more information.

"The removal is important because the level of uncertainty is hard to describe," said Amstutz.

Republican Gov. John Kasich put the Medicaid expansion plan into his budget.

"There's $13 billion Ohio tax dollars we can bring back to make sure we can cover the working poor," Kasich told 10TV in February. "And if we don't do it, the federal government will cut off reimbursement to those hospitals who are treating people who can't pay. You know what that means?  Chaos in our rural hospitals.  We can't have that.  We can't have a meltdown of our system."

But Amstutz said there is a philosophical difference over the sustainability of Medicaid.

"We see the concern there and there is a serious problem here," Amstutz said.  "There are very sharp edges in the so-called Affordable Care Act.  They are coming at us and we have to work with those because that's our responsibility. The federal direction, the immediate fiscal cliff, is only the first cliff. We are headed into very, very, very deep water."

Greta said she hopes lawmakers come to some agreement soon.

"It's very stressful.  Just everyday worries," she said.

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