Ohio Gov. John R. Kasich was right in 2013 when he pushed for the expansion of Medicaid eligibility, and he’s right today for rejecting a move by fellow Republicans in the Legislature to freeze the expansion.
Kasich, who won re-election in 2014 by a landslide, knew Friday night that his veto of the GOP anti-Medicaid provision may be overridden.
But, as the governor has shown time and again on this important issue, helping the least among us is government’s most important role.
It’s easy for Republicans in control of the Ohio General Assembly to flex their collective muscle against individuals who are powerless to threaten them politically, but politics does not have to be craven.
Many of the 700,000 or so Ohioans covered by Medicaid, health insurance for low-income individuals, are the working poor, mentally ill or drug addicted.
If the Republican legislators do override Kasich’s veto, an estimated 500,000 Ohioans could lose Medicaid coverage under the freeze within the first 18 months.
“I understand the fiscal concerns that we have, but we’ve been able to manage it,” said the governor. He vetoed a total of 47 items in the state’s biennial budget before signing the spending plan ahead of a midnight deadline Friday.
Kasich added: “I wouldn’t do anything that’s going to put the state in a position where we couldn’t have fiscal stability.”
But he also won’t do anything to add to the suffering of individuals who already face challenges in their daily lives that many of us cannot fathom.
This isn’t about giving a government handout to someone looking for a free ride, despite what some conservatives here and around the country may say.
It is about governing with heart.
In 2013, when he first proposed expanding Medicaid eligibility under the Affordable Care Act, Kasich talked about the thousands of Ohioans who were without health-care coverage.
He was not able to persuade the General Assembly to support the expansion, so he sought approval from the State Controlling Board to spend $2.56 billion in federal money to cover about 275,000 low- income Ohioans who would normally not be eligible for Medicaid coverage.
Ohio received permission from the administration of Democratic President Barack Obama to amend the Medicaid program so people making up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level ($32,499 for a household of four) could be covered.
Ohio’s expanded Medicaid population is larger than originally expected, costing about $5 billion, but the federal government has covered most of the cost.
DON’T IGNORE OPIATE EPIDEMIC
The governor noted Friday night the expansion has yielded Ohio nearly $300 million for opiate addiction, double what the GOP-controlled Legislature had allotted in the biennial budget.
While Republican legislators are undoubtedly worried about angering the conservative wing of the state GOP if they do not override the governor’s veto, they cannot ignore the fact that the opiate epidemic sweeping Ohio is as much a rural problem as an urban one.
Indeed, many predominantly Republican regions of the state have been experiencing an increasing number of drug-related deaths and overdoses.
If you think Gov. Kasich is simply picking a fight with members of his party, consider that he has gained national prominence because of his vocal opposition to the GOP’s rolling back Medicaid expansion as part of its effort to repeal and replace Obamacare.
Kasich’s stance has prompted other Republicans both on Capitol Hill and around the country to also warn of widespread suffering if Medicaid is put on the chopping block.
The growing opposition forced the Senate leadership to postpone a vote on its version of the bill to repeal and replace Obamacare. The House previously passed a measure that targets Medicaid.
Democrats in both chambers are unified in their opposition. U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Cleveland, praised Kasich “for standing up for Ohio families and doing what’s needed to combat the opioid crisis.”
While Republicans in the General Assembly get ready to override the governor’s veto, they would do well to consider this: Ohio spent nearly $1 billion to fight the opioid epidemic last year alone, with 70 percent coming directly from Medicaid.
Now is not the time to be pull the rug out from under individuals who do not have the ability to fight their addictions alone.