The Ohio House of Representatives rejected Gov. John Kasich’s calls to expand Medicaid under President Obama’s health care law as legislators refused to legislate the necessary waiver requests and called for further debate about the issue.
The Ohio House passed biennial budget House Bill 59 (HB 59) on April 18 without Kasich’s proposed Medicaid expansion. There is no deadline for states to expand Medicaid under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA), but promised federal funding tapers off beginning in 2017.
Ohio Liberty Coalition President Ted Stevenot applauded the move.
“We are pleased at the outcome in the House today, and we are grateful to the legislators who stood strong,” Stevenot said. “Our eyes now turn to the Senate as well as to any possibility of Medicaid legislation arising in the House in the future.”
Expansion Advocates Frustrated
In the budget debate, Democrat legislators made impassioned pleas to restore Medicaid expansion to the budget, repeating many of the claims Kasich, the hospital lobby, and socialized medicine advocates made for months in the run-up to the vote.
Rep. Nickie Antonio (D-Lakewood), a sponsor of a standalone Medicaid expansion bill and cosponsor of a universal health care bill, introduced an amendment to reinstate Medicaid expansion as originally proposed by the Republican governor.
“The people have spoken—they’ve spoken loud and clear,” Antonio said. “They’ve told us to expand Medicaid. It’s good for Ohio, it’s a positive economic strategy that would underwrite jobs and keep Ohio tax dollars at home. It would be fiscally irresponsible, anti-business, and harmful to more than 1 million Ohioans if we do nothing.”
Rep. Barbara Sears (R-Monclova Twp.) responded to Antonio’s proposed amendment by noting a separate amendment would address Medicaid expansion. Rep. Matt Huffman (R-Lima) motioned to table Antonio’s amendment, and the amendment was rejected on a 58-39 vote.
Sears later introduced a floor amendment calling for the House to explore a broad “rightsizing” of the state’s Medicaid program.
“This amendment will permit the Medicaid Director, working with the General Assembly, to seek approval for a proposal that will serve as an option for the House to consider,” Rep. Sears explained.
Sears listed “reducing enrollment” and developing a reform package that “improves health outcomes with the goal of lowering net state and federal costs” as priorities of the amendment.
“We will be going to school on this issue over the summer,” Rep. Sears added.
Push for Waiver Approach
Rep. Mike Foley (D-Cleveland) introduced an additional amendment to the Sears amendment, summarizing his proposal as “something in the middle of doing straight Medicaid expansion and doing nothing,” consisting of a push for a waiver request from the federal government.
Foley’s amendment, language rejected previously by the budget committee, was to “allow and direct the Director of Medicaid” to apply for a waiver with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to expand Medicaid as a “three-year demonstration project.”
“We’ve got a whole bunch of economic reasons why we need to do Medicaid expansion in the state of Ohio,” Foley said before repeating the popular falsehood that Medicaid expansion “will bring a lot of money back into the state.”
“If we really want to create jobs in the state of Ohio, this is one way to accomplish it,” Foley claimed.
Waiver Rejected, Reform Task Accepted
After the motion to table by Rep. Huffman, Foley’s amendment was rejected by a vote of 59-38. The Sears amendment was approved by a 97-0 vote before HB 59 passed the House with a vote of 61-35.
It is not considered likely the Ohio Senate will reintroduce the PPACA Medicaid expansion as it considers the budget approved by the House, but both the Ohio Liberty Coalition and Ohio Rising have made it clear they will continue helping counter pressure from Kasich, progressive activists, and the health care lobby to dramatically expand the entitlement program.