Cafaro pushes for Medicaid expansion

COLUMBUS – Trumbull County’s state senator renewed her push for expanding the Medicaid program on Tuesday, contending projections from a new analysis show that more people could be covered while saving the state money.

State lawmakers have been trying to find common ground on Medicaid since Republican Gov. John Kasich proposed an extension of the program in February. GOP leaders pulled it from the state budget, and the issue has yet to gain traction in the General Assembly.

State Sen. Capri Cafaro told reporters in Columbus that she believes it’s time for legislative leaders to quit “dancing around” the idea and act.

“Hundreds of thousands of Ohioans’ lives hang in the balance simply because they are a part of a population that is caught straight in the crosshairs of political marksmanship,” Cafaro, a Hubbard Democrat, said.

She has introduced a proposal to expand Medicaid coverage and cap the cost growth of the program at a roughly 3.5 percent rate, compared to the current rate of 7.2 percent a year.

Without expansion, total Medicaid spending in Ohio is projected to reach $43.4 billion in 2025 at its current rate. With extended coverage and the Medicaid growth rate maintained at 3.5 percent per year, spending could be $37.2 billion in 2025, according to an analysis by the Health Policy Institute of Ohio and Ohio State University’s John Glenn School of Public Affairs.

Medicaid expansion is one of the key components of Democratic President Barack Obama’s health care law.

Roughly 366,000 Ohioans would be newly eligible for coverage beginning in 2014 by expanding Medicaid. The federal-state health program for the poor already provides care for one of every five residents in the state. Washington would pay the entire cost of the expansion for the first three years, gradually phasing down to 90 percent – still well above Ohio’s current level of almost 64 percent.

Some Republicans in the Ohio Legislature say they fear being stuck with long-term costs and are leery of expanding government programs.

Cafaro said she hopes to slow the program’s costs through Medicaid payment reform and reducing the number of people enrolled in the program by helping to move them onto private insurance. Her plan would also create a joint oversight committee to review Medicaid rules and waivers.

State Sen. Dave Burke, a Marysville Republican, said he’s taking a “trust but verify” approach with the analysis.

Burke, who chairs a Medicaid subcommittee, said his panel is scheduled to hold a hearing next month on the numbers and is also having the figures reviewed by another organization.

“We’re going to follow a path of due diligence,” he said.

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.