Medicaid expansion debate rages


It wasn’t too long ago that Gov. John Kasich turned to the state Controlling Board to finalize an expansion of Medicaid eligibility, a move that drew heavy cheers and jeers from the two sides of that debate.

Proponents say the move is going to provide health care to several hundred thousand more Ohioans, including many working adults who still can’t afford coverage.

Opponents say it’s an endorsement of President Obama’s signature health care plan and a decision for out-of-control government spending and debt.

The issue was debated over most of last year, as Kasich continued to push for the expansion and conservatives continued to push against it.

Some Republican state lawmakers are facing primary challenges for not being vocal enough in their opposition, and Tea Party groups are not hiding their displeasure with Kasich.

The issue will have to be revisited — future general assemblies will have to decide whether to leave the expanded eligibility in place.

But that doesn’t mean the present Legislature isn’t still focused on Medicaid.

Take last week’s floor debate on House Bill 320, seemingly innocuous legislation sponsored by Republicans and Democrats that would designate December as “Free Clinic Appreciation Month.”

Among other provisions, the bill provides immunity from civil liabilities for volunteers at clinics providing health care to needy residents free of charge.

Online directory

It also requires the Ohio Department of Health to maintain an online directory of free clinics and provides incentives for doctors and dentists who volunteer at the locations.

No big deal, right? Who’s going to say anything bad about a free clinic?

But the two sides of the Medicaid debate used the floor discussion on the bill as an opportunity to further their causes.

Rep. Ron Young, a Republican from Lake County and primary sponsor of the measure, noted that free clinics serve as a “critical part” of the state’s health care system that “give Medicaid patients more access to care.”

The clinics, he said, provide valuable services to residents who can’t afford health care and save the communities where they are located a lot of money.

Rep. Chis Redfern, who serves as chairman of the Ohio Democratic Party, used the bill as an opportunity to remind the chamber of the Controlling Board action on Medicaid expansion.

Then Rep. Barbara Sears, R-Toledo, took a moment to offer, “This piece of legislation certainly brings a state solution instead of a federal solution to how we can help to work with access issues. ...”

And Rep. Lou Terhar, R-Cincinnati, added, “I think that having a state-controlled mechanism that allows us to bring some care to people who need it is critically important. If we delay or our federal brothers delay yet another piece of Obamacare [for] yet another year, yet further down the road, taking away what they promised people and now can’t deliver, we in the state of Ohio can not only promise but we can come through and deliver ...”

HB 320 passed on a lopsided vote of 94-1 and heads to the Ohio Senate for further consideration.

Marc Kovac is The Vindicator’s Statehouse correspondent. Email him at

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