Ohio GOP preps for showdown over drug treatment, Medicaid expansion

COLUMBUS - Ohio's GOP lawmakers say they are devoting millions to the fight against heroin and opioids, even as they propose stripping away insurance that helps Ohioans receive drug treatment.

With one hand, GOP lawmakers in the Ohio Senate have offered $176 million to tackle the state's drug problem. With the other, they've proposed crippling Gov. John Kasich's Medicaid expansion by ending new enrollment after July 1, 2018.

The move sets up a confrontation this week with some Republicans in the Ohio House and, possibly, with the governor. He holds line-item veto power over the state's two-year budget, which must pass out of the Legislature and get his signature before Saturday, July 1.

Kasich has touted Medicaid as his answer to the state's drug crisis, in which Ohio leads the nation in heroin- and opioid-related deaths. About $650 million of the $940 million spent annually combatting addiction in Ohio comes from Medicaid, with $280 milllion of that from the expansion. 

Lawmakers' proposed changes could effectively kill Medicaid expansion within a year or two for many low-income adults, the Kasich administration says. That's because many people hop on and off Medicaid as their salaries change. Seasonal employees, in particular, could be hurt by the move to end new enrollment.

Republicans in the Senate fear Medicaid's growing cost and uncertainty surrounding the program's future in Washington, D.C. Some are still upset about how Kasich went around many Republicans lawmakers in 2013 to expand Medicaid in the first place.

"We appreciate the fact that the governor wanted to spend money to try to help people, but there’s a limit to how much we can afford," said Sen. Bill Coley, R-Liberty Township.

Some House Republicans disagree, but there's a battle brewing in that chamber as well. Its most conservative members are eager to end Obamacare's Medicaid expansion in Ohio. Others, like Green Township's Rep. Bill Seitz, would rather regulate Medicaid expansion more carefully than kill it outright.

Then there's Kasich. The governor has staked his political career – especially since his presidential run – on looking out for the "people in the shadows." On Thursday, Kasich expressed concerns with congressional Republicans' proposed Obamacare fix, saying it didn't have the resources needed to help "those who are dealing with drug addiction, mental illness and chronic health problems and have nowhere else to turn."

That doesn't sound like a man eager to freeze Medicaid in his own state. 

© Gannett Co., Inc. 2017. All Rights Reserved


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