By Marc Kovac
Clergy groups pressured lawmakers Tuesday to back Gov. John Kasich’s plan to expand eligibility to provide health care and other services to more needy Ohioans.
Representatives of various Christian and Jewish groups cited Scripture and sacred texts in urging passage of the Medicaid proposal, countering a chorus of tea party and other groups that say doing so is an endorsement of Obamacare, government mandates and out-of-control federal spending.
“It is our faith that compels us to gather and offer this prophetic witness,” said the Rev. John Edgar, representing the Church for All People in Columbus. “Today, we call upon the Ohio General Assembly to approve Gov. Kasich’s plan to expand Medicaid. This will provide quality health care for tens of thousands of our fellow citizens who currently lack medical coverage.”
He added, “Expanding Medicaid is a matter of biblical morality, it is a matter of social justice and it is ultimately about our obedience to our creator.”
The faith groups gathered at the Statehouse on Tuesday to urge support for the Medicaid expansion, echoing comparable statements made by the governor during his State of the State speech last month.
Kasich’s two-year spending plan would expand Medicaid eligibility to Ohioans earning up to 138 percent of federal poverty levels (about $15,400 per person or $23,050 for a family of four).
The administration has estimated that the expansion will leverage billions in federal Medicaid dollars, save the state more than $400 million in general-revenue funds and ensure 275,000-plus additional low-income Ohioans will have coverage.
The budget provisions include an exit clause, allowing the state to abandon the expanded eligibility if the federal government lowers its funding commitments or makes other changes.
But Kasich’s proposal has drawn criticism from conservative groups, and the resulting Statehouse debate is pitting the governor, supportive Democratic lawmakers, liberal advocacy groups and a number of Republicans against more conservative lawmakers and like-minded organizations.
Clergy gathered at the Statehouse on Tuesday represented Methodist, Catholic, Jewish and other congregations.
Jim Tobin, representing the Ohio Catholic Conference of Bishops, said his group supports the Medicaid expansion, though it opposes other parts of the federal affordable care act.
Tom Smith, representing the Ohio Council of Churches, said, “How many low-income Americans with cancer, heart problems or diabetes would live longer lives because they received early treatment?”