Ohio leader notes concerns with expanding Medicaid

ANN SANNER Associated Press Published:

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) -- The leader of the Ohio House said Wednesday his Republican colleagues have concerns about the expense of expanding Medicaid, though he has yet to discuss with them whether the state should increase Medicaid coverage under the federal health care law.

Republican Gov. John Kasich is expected to decide soon whether Ohio should opt for the Medicaid expansion under the federal health care law known as the Affordable Care Act. The governor plans to make the decision known when he unveils his two-year state budget proposal on Feb. 4.

House Speaker William Batchelder acknowledged Wednesday that expanding Medicaid poses not just financial questions, but also philosophical ones for lawmakers who oppose the law and its mandate for almost everyone to obtain insurance.

"Obviously our caucus has concern about any expansion of that program simply because of the expenses," Batchelder told reporters. "It's just huge, and so we're going to have to spend time doing research and so forth."

Ohio had been among the 26 states that had challenged the federal law. And the state's voters overwhelming snubbed the overhaul's mandated coverage in a largely symbolic referendum in 2011.

The U.S. Supreme Court upheld the heart of the law last year, but made the Medicaid expansion optional for states. The law expanded Medicaid to cover low-income people making up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level, or about $15,400 a year for a single person.

Ohio officials have been weighing the long-term impact and potential costs of expanding Medicaid against the possible savings.

A study released last week said Ohio stands to make $1.4 billion over the next decade with the expansion. But most of that revenue would come during the first years of an expanded Medicaid program and eventually level off as the state's share of the costs increase.

About 456,000 uninsured Ohioans would gain health care coverage by 2022 under the expansion, according to the study from the Health Policy Institute of Ohio, a nonpartisan policy organization.

Batchelder said he had yet to review the findings of the group's report. He said he planned to start focusing on Medicaid expansion in meetings with his Republican members, who hold a 60-39 advantage in the state House.

"I know the members are going to want to do the best that they can for their constituency," Batchelder said. "But the other side of that is, I'm not quite sure where it leads us. And if the federal government decides that they don't like us, then where are we?"