By Jason Hart | Ohio Watchdog
Ohio legislators are being pressured to rubber-stamp the renewal of Gov. John Kasich’s Obamacare Medicaid expansion, likely with the promise of minor reforms in return.
With more tha 430,000 Ohioans now receiving Medicaid benefits under Obamacare, and with Kasich claiming a mandate from his 31-point victory over blundering Democrat Ed FitzGerald, political circumstances have changed since Kasich expanded Medicaid despite legislative disapproval in 2013.
The Republican governor’s arguments for redefining the state’s largest entitlement program, however, remain static. Kasich insists the role of government is “lifting” the poor, pretends the Medicaid expansion is separate from Obamacare and paid for with Ohio tax dollars, and accuses critics of disobeying God.
During an Oct. 28 Columbus Metropolitan Club speech, Kasich portrayed the Obamacare expansion as an outreach program for drug addicts and the mentally ill.
“We’re gonna help them, and that’s the way it’s gotta be,” Kasich said. “Now that doesn’t mean we just give everything away.”
After a passing reference to “accountability,” Kasich said, “as I said, when ya get to see St. Peter he’s not gonna ask, ‘Did you balance the budget?’ He’s going to say, whether he’s Peter or whether he’s Jacob, ‘What’d you do for the least of those?’”
Buckeye Institute policy analyst Greg Lawson
Ohio Watchdog spoke with Greg Lawson, policy analyst at the free-market Buckeye Institute, about Kasich’s rhetoric and the likelihood of the Ohio General Assembly falling in line. Buckeye Institute has produced multiple studies highlighting problems with Medicaid expansion and recommending alternatives.
“It’s not surprising to hear the governor use that kind of language with respect to Medicaid expansion,” Lawson said. “He’s clearly made statements to that effect, almost the same verbiage although he amped it up some. But it doesn’t change the fact that it’s still disappointing, because the Medicaid expansion is just as wrong now as it was when he circumvented the Legislature and went through the Controlling Board to do it.
“It’s really unfortunate the rhetoric that’s being used,” Lawson said. “There’s many ways of doing things. We had offered some plans, we were talking to members all last year trying to look at options that would include work requirements before you would get the extended coverage — because again, it’s all able-bodied adults.”
Medicaid traditionally has covered only the most vulnerable populations — poor families with dependent children, the elderly and the physically disabled. Kasich’s Obamacare expansion transforms the program into an entitlement based on income alone.
“We thought that looking at welfare reform and what happened previously there was a good model to try to apply to this,” Lawson said. “We knew that would be difficult with the Obama administration, but we thought that was the right way to go. So we were actually looking at a state plan that could incorporate real work requirements.
“Those are the kind of things that we should be talking about instead of just doing the carte blanche expansion and expecting the Legislature’s going to be a rubber stamp for it,” he said.
Regarding talk of “personal responsibility” from the governor and his administration, Lawson said he expects the Ohio House to demand Medicaid reforms before backing the Obamacare expansion. Last year, Obamacare proponents tried to spin Medicaid expansion as a prerequisite to reform.
“It’s unclear to me how you can implement reforms with teeth when the feds won’t let you, and that’s the core problem about it being a Medicaid expansion,” Lawson said. “Until the Medicaid program is changed in Washington, in order to actually do a fully state-run program where you have complete authority — it’s not clear to me that you have the ability to do that.”
“I’m very skeptical of that whole line of argument, ‘Oh you’ve got to expand to reform.’ No, you’ve got to reform before you ever consider expanding.”
State Rep. Cliff Rosenberger, who will be speaker of the Ohio House starting in January, has not responded to a request for comment.