A seven-member legislative board on Monday accepted federal funding to expand Ohio’s Medicaid program to cover more low-income Ohioans for the next two years.
Republican Gov. John Kasich originally attempted to get the Medicaid expansion through the General Assembly, but he ultimately bypassed the legislature after months of unsuccessfully wrangling with members of his own political party to embrace the expansion.
Kasich instead opted to go through the Controlling Board, an obscure panel that typically handles less contentious budget issues that keep with legislative intent.
Most Republican state representatives, including local Reps. Lou Terhar, Louis Blessing and Peter Stautberg, signed a letter in protest of the tactic. The letter invokes legal arguments against the governor’s decision and could be the basis for a lawsuit in the future.
“Our protest is not about the merits or lack of merit in expanding Medicaid,” the letter states. “Our protest goes to the fundamental form of government upon which our country was founded — a Republic of checks and balances and separation of powers.”
Republican legislators say they’re concerned about the government’s involvement in the health care system and whether the federal government can afford to pay for the Medicaid expansion.
On the other side, Democrats, in a rare alliance with a Republican governor, applauded Kasich for embracing a cornerstone of President Barack Obama’s signature health care law.
Under Obamacare, the federal government asked states to expand their Medicaid programs to cover anyone at or below 138 percent of the federal poverty level, or individuals with an annual income of $15,856.20 or less. If states accept, the federal government pays for the full expansion through fiscal year 2016, and then gradually phases down its payments to an indefinite 90 percent of the expansion’s costs.
In comparison, the Kaiser Family Foundation found the federal government paid for nearly 64 percent of Ohio’s Medicaid program in fiscal year 2013.
The expansion is necessary to fill a so-called “coverage gap” under Obamacare and Ohio law. Without the expansion, parents with incomes between 90 percent and 100 percent of the federal poverty level and childless adults with incomes below 100 percent of the federal poverty level don’t qualify for either Obamacare’s tax credits or Medicaid.
The Health Policy Institute of Ohio previously found the expansion would insure between 300,000 and 400,000 Ohioans through fiscal year 2015. If legislators approve the expansion beyond that, the institute says it would generate $1.8 billion for Ohio and insure nearly half a million Ohioans over the next decade.
The federally funded expansion is set to begin in 2014. It will cost the federal government nearly $2.6 billion, according to the Ohio Department of Medicaid.