The Ohio House of Representatives passed biennial budget House Bill 59 (HB 59) on April 18 without Governor John Kasich's proposed Medicaid expansion, calling instead for a separate debate on the issue. There is no deadline for states to expand Medicaid under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA), but promised federal funding tapers off beginning in 2017.
"Many thanks to those of you who worked so hard to see that House legislators said 'NO' to the federal government takeover of healthcare in our state," Ohio Liberty Coalition President Ted Stevenot wrote in an evening announcement. "To achieve this outcome, scores of you dedicated countless hours to making calls, knocking on doors, and meeting with legislators to express your concerns."
"We are pleased at the outcome in the House today, and we are grateful to the legislators who stood strong," Stevenot added. "Our eyes now turn to the Senate as well as to any possibility of Medicaid legislation arising in the House in the future."
Democrats made impassioned pleas to restore Medicaid expansion to the budget, repeating many of the outrageous claims Governor Kasich, the hospital lobby, newspapers, and socialized medicine advocates have been making for months.
Rep. Nickie Antonio (D-Lakewood), a sponsor of a standalone Medicaid expansion bill and cosponsor of a universal health care bill, introduced an amendment to reinstate Medicaid expansion as originally proposed by the Republican governor on February 4.
"The people have spoken - they've spoken loud and clear," Antonio insisted. "They've told us to expand Medicaid. It's good for Ohio, it's a positive economic strategy that would underwrite jobs and keep Ohio tax dollars at home."
"It would be fiscally irresponsible, anti-business, and harmful to more than 1 million Ohioans if we do nothing," Rep. Antonio continued. "It would create new jobs for Ohio citizens. It's been estimated that at least $13 billion over the next several years could come into Ohio."
Rep. Barbara Sears (R-Monclova Twp.) responded to Antonio's proposed amendment by noting that a separate amendment would address Medicaid expansion. Rep. Matt Huffman (R-Lima) motioned to table Antonio's amendment, and the amendment was rejected on a 58-39 vote.
Rep. Sears later introduced a floor amendment calling for the House to explore a broad "rightsizing" of the state's Medicaid program.
"This amendment will permit the Medicaid Director, working with the General Assembly, to seek approval for a proposal that will serve as an option for the House to consider," Rep. Sears explained.
Sears listed "reducing enrollment" and developing a reform package that "improves health outcomes with the goal of lowering net state and federal costs" as priorities of the amendment.
"We will be going to school on this issue over the summer," Rep. Sears added.
Rep. Mike Foley (D-Cleveland) introduced an amendment to the Sears amendment, summarizing his proposal as "something in the middle of doing straight Medicaid expansion and doing nothing."
Foley's amendment, language rejected by the budget committee earlier in the week, would "allow and direct the Director of Medicaid" to apply for a waiver with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to expand Medicaid as a "three-year demonstration project."
"We've got a whole bunch of economic reasons why we need to do Medicaid expansion in the state of Ohio," Rep. Foley said before repeating the popular falsehood that Medicaid expansion "will bring a lot of money back into the state."
"If we really want to create jobs in the state of Ohio, this is one way to accomplish it," Foley claimed.
Rep. Foley is the primary sponsor of a standalone bill that would create a new state agency to provide universal health care. After a motion to table by Rep. Huffman, Foley's amendment was rejected by a vote of 59-38.
The Sears amendment - which conservatives feared would strongly resemble what Rep. Foley proposed - was approved by a 97-0 vote before HB 59 passed the House with a vote of 61-35.
It is not considered likely that the Ohio Senate will reintroduce the PPACA Medicaid expansion as it considers the budget approved by the House, but both the Ohio Liberty Coalition and Ohio Rising have made it clear they will continue helping liberty-minded activists counter pressure from Governor Kasich, progressive activists, and the health care lobby to dramatically expand the entitlement program.
This story originally appeared at Media Trackers Ohio.