Medicaid expansion backers rally at Ohio Capitol
Written by ANN SANNER, Associated Press   
Friday, 12 April 2013 06:21

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Susan Bennett can't get treatment for her skin cancer because she's uninsured, unemployed and no doctor will see her.

Standing in the rain on the steps of the Ohio Statehouse, she asked state lawmakers on Thursday to extend Medicaid coverage, so more low-income Ohioans like herself could get the medical care they need.

"I want them to think about the lives they could save, and I would like for them to choose us — the people — over politics," said the 52-year-old Bennett, of Columbus.

Bennett's words were greeted with cheers from an estimated 2,500 demonstrators who gripped umbrellas and signs in support of Medicaid expansion at Thursday's rally on the Capitol lawn. The event follows a decision by Ohio House Republicans to strip the expansion plan from the budget.

Republican House leaders said uncertainty in Washington over rules for the program caused them to drop the expansion, which is backed by GOP Gov. John Kasich.

States can opt out of an expanded Medicaid program under the new federal law. If the state chooses to go forward with expansion, roughly 366,000 Ohioans would be eligible for health coverage, beginning in 2014. And the state would see $13 billion from the federal government over the next seven years to cover those newly eligible.

Kasich in February proposed going forward with expansion, contending it was a way for the state to recapture Ohio taxpayers' federal money to provide medical care for those who were most vulnerable.

But many Republican lawmakers are averse to Democratic President Barack Obama's law and resistant to expanding government programs. They have cited concerns about increasing the national debt and fears that the money from Washington could be cut off.

Health care providers, union workers, business owners and groups representing the poor and disabled assembled outside the Capitol to urge lawmakers to include the Medicaid expansion in the state budget proposal.

The House continues to hold hearings on the $61.4 billion, two-year state budget this week. Additional changes to the proposal could come next week before representatives vote on it. It would then go to the Senate for review.

"We cannot give up," Bob Spada, board president of the National Alliance on Mental Illness of Ohio, told the crowd. "We cannot give in. We will continue to fight for what is right and just."

Chris Littleton, president of Ohio Rising, has urged supporters of his tea-party linked group to continue to stand against the Medicaid expansion.

Littleton told reporters he attended Thursday's rally to hear the perspectives of the other side.

Still, he said, "I cannot say this strongly enough: There is not a set pot of money for Ohio at the federal level. It doesn't exist. They're only going to be able to give money by further indebting our kids."

The Medicaid expansion is one of the key components of the federal Affordable Care Act. Of the nearly 30 million people expected to gain insurance coverage under the law, about half would get it from the expansion.

The law is using health insurance exchanges to allow higher-income people to buy health plans. But without the Medicaid expansion, a group of people would likely go uncovered. With the expansion, an adult without children earning up to $15,415 can be added to Medicaid.

The federal government offers a major incentive: It has agreed to pay the entire cost of the expansion for three years and gradually phase down to paying 90 percent of the cost, still well above Ohio's current level of 64 percent.

Bennett said she's actively looking for work, though has mostly been able to find seasonal employment at warehouses and/or retail stores.

"Right now, I'm living on basically nothing," she said.

Bennett gets by with support from friends and family, food stamps and assistance with utility bills. She said she doesn't seek medical care when she's sick. "I just don't go," she said.

Steps away from Bennett, state Rep. Jay Hottinger stood alongside the Capitol.

"The tough part about being a legislator is that you can't make everybody happy," said Hottinger, a Newark Republican, in an interview. "Ohio's a divided state, and you got people on this issue that have strong opinions on it on both sides."

Hottinger said he stepped outside the Statehouse to listen and learn, and he discovered a lot of passion behind the issue.

If Medicaid expansion does not move forward, he said, it's up to Republicans who control the House and Senate to step up with an alternative that could get broader support.

"If this isn't what we're doing — you know, just saying no is not a good option," he said.

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.


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