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Kasich to keep pushing for Medicaid expansion

Advocates fear Obama decision to delay employer mandate could hurt effort.

Advocates for expanding Medicaid in Ohio, including Gov. John Kasich, say they will continue to push for expansion despite the Obama administration’s recent decision to delay a key portion of the federal health care law until next year.

Last week, the Obama administration said it would delay for one year the requirement that companies with 50 or more employees provide insurance to workers as part of the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. The employer mandate was due to take effect on Jan. 1.

The move undermined a central argument a coalition pushing for the expansion of Medicaid eligibility had made in urging lawmakers to act before leaving for their summer recess, which began at the end of June.

“Taking the heat off in that respect definitely did us no favors,” said Ohio House Minority Leader Tracy Heard, D-Columbus, who called the delay of the employer mandate a “disappointment.”

Advocates argue that expanding Medicaid would make another 275,000 additional low-income Ohioans eligible for government health care, saving employers from either paying for insurance for some of those people or from paying millions in federal penalties.

The federal government has offered to pay for 100 percent of the costs for newly eligible Medicaid enrollees for three years, and then gradually scale back to 90 percent after that, an estimated $13 billion over seven years.

Greg Lawson, a policy analyst for the conservative Buckeye Institute, said the delay of the employer mandate highlights concerns that Ohio can’t count on the federal government to live up to its end of the deal.

“We will not be in the driver’s seat for a federal government program. We will be the victim of any policy changes they make,” Lawson said.

Advocates say waiting on expansion still potentially leaves hundreds of thousands of Ohioans without health insurance and leaves federal money on the table. The individual mandate is still on track and slated to take effect Jan. 1, 2014. Households that do not sign up will generally face a penalty of $95 a person.

“Practically speaking, the employer penalty argument bolstered our argument on the sense of urgency on this… but that’s not the only reason why Medicaid expansion made sense,” said Jon Allison, a well-connected Republican lobbyist who is heading up the expansion effort in Ohio.

Allison helped organize a rally Tuesday in which hundreds of pro-expansion advocates, representing hospitals, businesses, religious organizations and mental health service providers filled the Statehouse atrium.

Kasich was the event’s keynote speaker, and called on those in attendance to contact their state legislators and get them to take action. He told reporters afterwards that the delay of the employer mandate doesn’t impact his plan to continue pushing for expansion.

“Medicaid is Medicaid and Obamacare is Obamacare and Medicaid is Medicaid,” Kasich said. “They’re two different things. And I don’t I don’t see that they’re really connected.”

Ohio Democratic Chairman Chris Redfern on Tuesday blasted Kasich, saying he goes to rallies but hasn’t worked with Democrats on the issue, or brought any Republicans to his side.

“Actually working on bipartisan legislation to pass Medicaid expansion could take away from the governor’s time for rallies, which would be unfortunate,” Redfern said.

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