State Medicaid director touts expansion of program

The director of the Ohio Department of Medicaid said Monday a recent assessment showed the program cut Ohio’s uninsured rate in half and extended coverage to hundreds of thousands of low-income residents.

The report showed expanding the program four years ago has also helped abut 26,000 people quit smoking and provided more treatment options for residents fighting opioid addiction, said Barbara Sears, a former state representative and director of the Ohio Department of Medicaid.

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“If you don’t think Medicaid affects your community you’re wrong,” Sears said during a meeting at the Springfield Rotary Club.

Medicaid is a health insurance program for the poor and disabled funded with a combination of state and federal dollars. About 700,000 Ohioans signed up when the program was expanded in 2014 as part of the Affordable Care Act. But it has covered about 1.2 million people at various times over the past four years, according to the report. For adults ages 19 to 64, about 12 percent of Clark County residents and 7 percent of Champaign County residents are currently enrolled, according to the report.

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Sears said a review of the program showed high-cost emergency room use by those enrolled fell 17 percent and the program helped approximately 26,000 people quit smoking. It also showed the percentage of Ohioans without health insurance was 9.3 percent at the end of last year for adults 19 to 64 years old. That’s down from 17.3 percent in 2012.

Ohio Gov. John Kasich pushed for expanding the program, but the expansion has been unpopular among many members of his party. U.S. Rep. Warren Davidson, R-Troy, recently told members of the Chamber of Greater Springfield that the program is financially unsustainable and that he prefers changes that would provide funding to states in the form of block grants.

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Information from the Ohio Department of Medicaid showed the federal government covers 63 percent of the program's cost while the state is responsible for the remaining 37 percent. But the federal government will pay 93.5 percent of the costs for those covered under the the expansion, with Ohio paying 6.5 percent.

Sears also pointed out Ohio receives budgetary offsets that effectively cuts the state’s share to 3.2 percent.

Sears argued Monday Ohio’s roughly $163 million annual match brings more than $5 billion in healthcare services to the state and provides care for 653,000 Ohioans.

“We figure we can provide about a year’s worth of primary care for less than what it costs for a visit to the emergency room one time,” Sears said.

She said state officials are looking for further ways to streamline the program to provide more efficient services to residents.

“Medicaid expansion is manageable and affordable now and into the future,” Sears said.

The Springfield News-Sun will continue to provide unmatched coverage of health care issues in Clark and Champaign Counties. For this story, the paper spoke with state officials about a recent assessment of the state’s Medicaid expansion since it was implemented in 2014.

Facts & Figures

700,000: Estimated low-income Ohioans enrolled in the program

1.2 million: Estimated Ohioans who have access health care as a result of the expansion

26,000: Estimated residents the program helped quit smoking

17 percent: Reduction in use of high-cost emergency department visits

SOURCE: Ohio Department of Medicaid

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