Group Takes First Step Toward Putting Medicaid Issue On Ohio Ballot

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UPDATED: Wednesday September 4, 2013 6:04 PM

Supporters of Medicaid expansion have submitted petition signatures to the Attorney General's Office which is the first step in an effort to get the issue on the Ohio ballot.

"Dedicated advocates, union members and health care providers collected over 5,800 signatures in just four days over a holiday weekend," said Jon Allison of Healthy Ohioans Work.  "That is a testament to their dedication to this vital public policy issue."

Gov. John Kasich proposed Medicaid health coverage to more low-income Ohioans back in February.  But, he has failed to convince the Republican leadership at the statehouse to allow a vote on the issue.

"Is it fair to say that we're disappointed in a very high level way because we're not done with this?  Yes," said Allison.  "To lay that at the feet of the governor, I think is unfair."

Kasich says legislative leaders are still working on Medicaid expansion.

“We certainly consider supporters of the petition to be our allies on this issue and he appreciates their ongoing efforts," said Kasich spokesman Rob Nichols.

The Democratic candidate for governor, Ed FitzGerald, says he has already signed the petition.

"I'm excited about this effort and looking forward to doing more to ensure that these dollars are returned to Ohio, where they belong, to help working Ohioans get the health care they need," said FitzGerald.

House speaker Bill Batchelder says there will be no legislative action on Medicaid until October.

“The Speaker and legislators have been working diligently throughout the summer months on the issues surrounding Medicaid,” said Batchelder spokesman Mike Dittoe.  “As he has said previously, I would expect action on Medicaid legislation in 2013.”

Dittoe would not say whether the GOP bill would include just reform of Medicaid or actual expansion required by the federal government.

The coalition supporting Medicaid expansion includes the Ohio Chamber of Commerce, Ohio hospitals, AARP, consumer advocates and religious organizations.

"Our greatest hope is to have Medicaid expansion authorized in 2013," said Allison.  "We hope putting this option on the table makes that likely to happen."

If lawmakers fail to act by the Dec. 31 deadline, Medicaid expansion could be on the statewide ballot in November 2014.

Allison admits the timing of a Medicaid vote could put Kasich at a disadvantage.

“We don’t know what will be on the ballot next year,” said Allison.  “If this is the only one going, the conventional wisdom theory is that it would drive Democratic turnout.”

Conservatives, including state Treasurer Josh Mandel, oppose Medicaid expansion because of the current national debt and fear that the money from the federal government could be cut off.

Last week, Jim DeMint from the conservative think-tank Heritage Foundation told 10TV that Ohioans should reject expansion.

"The promise of the federal money is what I call fool's gold," said DeMint. "It's going to be there for a few years, but over the next ten years, expanding Medicaid to follow Obamacare is going to cost Ohio billions of dollars.  I think John Kasich is a wonderful person, but government compassion doesn't work."

Janet Polzer from Athens says her son suffers from a severe mental illness and that DeMint's position is wrong.

"He's saying compassion doesn't work, and I'm here to say that compassion does work," said Polzer.  "I think lawmakers know in their heart that this is the right thing to do.  I think that some of the lawmakers in this state have been bullied into believing that if they vote for Medicaid expansion they'll never win another election.”

Polzer says Medicaid expansion would help other families get treatment for brain disorders.

"I'm not a math major but to me it's a no-brainer," said Polzer.  "Money from the federal government, total payment for three years and then a 90-10 payment to help the people of this state get well?  What's the difficulty other than some legislators believing a vote for this is a vote for the Affordable Care Act. For some reason, that's forbidden."

Roughly 366,000 Ohioans would be newly eligible for coverage beginning in 2014 by expanding Medicaid.

Michigan lawmakers approved Medicaid expansion on Tuesday.

"This is about providing coverage to a lot of hard working but lower income people that can now get health insurance and have a better quality of life," said Michigan's Republican governor Rick Snyder.  "It's also a way for all Michiganders to save money.  So it's a win for Michigan."

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