In his first sit down television interview since unveiling the House Republican budget proposal, Finance Committee Chairman Ron Amstutz said GOP lawmakers would hold their ground on preventing Medicaid expansion.
"The removal is important because the level of uncertainty is hard to describe," said Amstutz. "This gives us a chance to change the conversation a little bit and to begin to think about where we're going."
Amstutz's comments came one day after 2,500 supporters of Medicaid expansion rallied at the statehouse. Supporters included representatives from the Ohio Chamber of Commerce, Ohio Right to Life, progressive health care organizations, the Ohio Hospital Association, children advocates, AARP, Democrats and Governor John Kasich.
Appearing on Capitol Square, Amstutz waved off the rally as political "noise."
"There are people working fulltime, and even overtime, to try to create that division because that is of interest and sort of entertaining," said Amstutz. "But this is too important to let those caricatures drive the conversation."
The Amstutz budget puts him at odds with his fellow Republican Kasich who defended Medicaid expansion during an interview on Capitol Square in February.
"There's $13 billion Ohio tax dollars we can bring back to make sure we can cover the working poor," said Kasich. "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."
In response to Kasich, 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."
Amstutz dismissed the idea of Ohio creating a "circuit breaker" that could opt out of the expansion in three years.
"That sounds good but we have to think about the people involved," said Amstutz. "You don't start a program and shut it down in three years for people. You have to think in a way that's sustainable or else you're not really caring about people even though you talk about it like you are."
Amstutz indicated the senate could put the Medicaid expansion back in the budget bill, although most observers say it's unlikely despite Democratic support.
"Ohio elected President Obama as did the country," said senate Minority Leader Eric Kearney. "Obamacare was on the table. Ohio supports that. It's good for our economy. Governor Kasich puts out a very persuasive argument about Medicaid expansion. It creates more problems by rejecting it than it solves."
Kearney, also appearing on Capitol Square, said his Republican counterparts in the senate should consider the ramifications of rejecting Medicaid expansion.
"Those are our taxdollars that we're sending to Washington and we should get them back," said Kearney. "How do you get Right to Life, the Chamber of Commerce, the Ohio Democratic Party, all of these diverse groups all saying they want Medicaid expansion. They had a huge rally and there's no movement? I mean c'mon."
Kearney acknowledges Kasich took political risk in alienating the tea party and conservatives opposed to Medicaid. But in the end, if it fails, the blame will rest with him.
"Yes, it will be an argument that Democrats will make. I think governor Kasich is probably comfortable about that. He's not worried about that," said Kearney.
The full interviews with Amstutz and Kearney can be seen on Capitol Square this Sunday at 11:30 am on 10TV.
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