Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R) announced on Monday that he will expand his state’s Medicaid program to extend health coverage to an estimated 600,000 low-income Ohioans. The governor noted that accepting Obamacare’s optional Medicaid expansion will strengthen Ohio’s safety net for its poorest residents, allow state programs to focus their resources on providing care for the mentally ill, and ultimately save the state $13 million dollars over the next seven years.
Ohio is the fifth GOP-led state to indicate support for expanding the Medicaid program, joining Nevada, New Mexico, Arizona, and North Dakota. In a press conference to unveil his budget priorities for this legislative session, Kasich explained that although he “is not a supporter of Obamacare,” he recognizes that expanding Medicaid “makes great sense” for the people in his state:
We’re doing this for a variety of reasons. Number one, many of these people who are below the $14,000 in income — some of the poorest Ohioans — they get their primary care in an emergency room. Now that is not the best way to get people primary care. Not only is it not good for them, because it doesn’t allow them to get healthy, but secondly, it drives up the cost of everybody’s health care. [...]
If we were to reject extending Medicaid, I believe that we would create financial chaos, particularly across our rural hospitals…because they would no longer be able to get reimbursed for the care that they provide. It would create, in my judgement, a financial mess. In addition to this, many of you know that I have really wanted to work hard to restore the safety net for the mentally ill and the addicted. The fact is, extending Medicaid is going to significantly allow our local providers — of both mental health services and addictive services — with some space and some opportunity to begin to rebuild that safety net, so we don’t find as many of our mentally ill in our jails today because they receive no care. [...]
I am not a supporter of Obamacare. I don’t believe in the individual mandate…and I decided to move forward with the federal exchange rather than the state exchange, where I believe we would have lost control. But I believe this makes great sense for the state of Ohio.
Kasich echoed the sentiments of the other GOP governors who have also agreed to expand Medicaid in their states. Gov. Jan Brewer (R-AZ), another vocal opponent of President Obama’s health care reform law, conceded last month that expanding the eligibility level for Arizona’s Medicaid program will “secure a federal revenue stream to cover the costs of the uninsured who already show up in our doctors’ offices and emergency rooms” and “protect rural and safety-net hospitals from being pushed to the brink.”
Nonetheless, other Republican leaders across the country are still refusing to accept Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion, stubbornly resisting health care reform at the expense of their poorest residents. The ten states that have rejected the Medicaid expansion — some of which have the highest rates of uninsurance in the nation — are all led by GOP governors.