By Catherine Candisky
A week after state lawmakers adjourned for summer recess, Gov. John Kasich and other supporters of expanding Medicaid packed into the Statehouse yesterday to urge legislators to return to Columbus to extend tax-funded health coverage to tens of thousands poor, uninsured Ohioans.
"As Americans, we need to beat back this notion that when somebody's poor, somehow they are lazy," Kasich told a cheering crowd of several hundred.
"We will work with the legislature to make sure that there are opportunities in vocational education and training and some real discipline, but that should not allow this notion in our country -- this growing notion particular among those people who have -- that those that do not have are somehow lesser."
Supporters want lawmakers to return to Columbus before the end of the summer to approve legislation to expand Medicaid on Jan. 1 to an estimated 275,000 people with incomes up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level, or about $15,800 a year.
GOP leaders in the House and Senate late last month rejected a provision in fellow Republican Kasich's budget plan to authorize the expansion, but they promised to work on separate legislation through the summer.
The proposal stalled over concerns of conservative lawmakers who argued that the federal government can't afford to expand Medicaid and states could get stuck with the tab. They also wanted assurances that Medicaid recipients would participate in job training.
Rep. Ann Gonzales, a Westerville Republican and member of the House Finance Committee, which is reviewing two separate Medicaid bills, said yesterday that the concerns haven't changed, but there is an added "uneasiness" because of recent modifications to the Affordable Care Act by President Barack Obama's administration.
For example, the administration announced last week that a requirement that employers provide health insurance to workers or pay a penalty would be delayed from the end of 2014 to the end of 2015.
"How successful is the Affordable Care Act going to be when the president has been making changes to the program?" she asked.
Kasich said that beyond helping the uninsured, Ohio needs to take advantage of the $13 billion in federal aid that expansion would bring into the state over the next seven years.
House Speaker William G. Batchelder, R-Medina, has said lawmakers would vote this fall on Medicaid "reforms," which presumably would include expansion.
House Finance Committee Chairman Ron Amstutz, R-Wooster, said he met with Democrats and Republicans yesterday to outline a proposal that could emerge as a substitute bill later this summer.
Earlier yesterday, Democratic leaders said Kasich, instead of giving speeches at rallies, must " put the screws to members of his party."
"We're running out of time. We're frustrated," said Rep. Mike Foley, D-Cleveland. "We don't have any firm timeline on when any meetings will take place."
But Kasich rejected such tactics. "We have to respect the legislative process," he said.
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