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Two groups back Medicaid expansion in Ohio

TIFFANY L. PARKS
Special to the Legal News

Published: August 14, 2013

A Cleveland lawmaker pushing for Medicaid expansion has rallied support from two statewide coalitions.

Senate Bill 117, sponsored by Sen. Shirley Smith, would widen Medicaid eligibility to 138 percent of the federal poverty level as allowed by the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

“I am sponsoring this legislation because my district in Cleveland is a prime example of how Medicaid expansion can help individuals, communities, businesses and our state,” said Smith, a Democrat, who noted the city being home to “world-class” medical facilities like Cleveland Clinic.

“It is also home to poor communities whose residents don’t have adequate access to health insurance and health-care services.”

Smith said that lack of access results in high rates of infant mortality, obesity, cancer, chronic disease and other health ailments.

“Expanding Medicaid will help erase this injustice,” she said.

SB 117 has been endorsed by Ohio Consumers for Health Coverage and Advocates for Ohio’s Future.

AOF officials had urged lawmakers to enact the proposal before the legislative break.

“Families and communities in every legislative district stand to benefit from expanded health care,” said Will Petrik, AOF state director. “We know that healthy Ohioans work and that expanded health care will bring additional revenue and new jobs into Ohio’s communities.”

In a statement, an AOF official said the organization’s advocates are concerned about the lack of health-care coverage Ohioans will face if the legislature does not move SB 117 forward.

“Without health-care coverage, uninsured Ohioans will be forced to continue choosing between their health, housing and food for their families,” said AOF Co-chair Gayle Channing Tenenbaum. “The longer the General Assembly delays, the longer we force Ohio’s families to make these difficult decisions.”

Smith said enacting the bill would protect Ohioans, bring in revenue and create jobs.

“The bill accomplishes these goals by implementing Medicaid expansion just as Gov. (John) Kasich proposed in his original budget plan,” she said, adding that the language to expand Medicaid was removed from the budget in the House and that the Senate majority has no plans to include it again.

Despite signs of economic growth, Smith said some families are still struggling.

“A medical emergency is the exact thing that could bankrupt them and their dreams,” she said.

Smith said that the MetroHealth System has started enrolling uninsured individuals in Cuyahoga County in MetroHealth Care Plus.

“This program is going to help produce positive health outcomes for thousands of Northeast Ohioans who do not otherwise have access to affordable health insurance plans,” she said.

“Essentially, the MetroHealth Care Plus program is a miniature version of Medicaid expansion. Whereas MetroHealth Care Plus will help 30,000 Northeast Ohioans, Medicaid expansion will help approximately 275,000 individuals across the state.”

At a press conference for the bill, Chillicothe resident Joe Cryster, a U.S. Navy veteran, expressed his support for SB 117 and the impact that it would have on 26,000 uninsured veterans in Ohio who would gain health insurance coverage through Medicaid expansion.

“When times are tough, our uniformed service people get up and they spare nothing. They leave everything behind — their families and their children,” he said. “They never know if they are coming back. It is important for them to realize that when they do come back, they are going to be taken care of. We can’t keep overlooking our veterans.”

Matt Davis, vice president of government affairs for the Cincinnati USA Chamber of Commerce, also campaigned for the bill.

“The chamber and the business community are very concerned about the escalating costs of health care,” he said. “We believe that the health of the economy is reflected in the health of its community. Healthy workers are productive, engaged and build into our local economies and help them thrive.”

Smith expressed optimism the bill would gain momentum.

“If we truly believe that we are our brother’s keeper, then there is no argument against it,” she said. “Medicaid expansion is simply the right thing to do.”

SB 117 has gained partisan support from Democratic Sens. Edna Brown, Capri Cafaro, Eric Kearney, Lou Gentile, Tom Sawyer, Joe Schiavoni, Michael Skindell, Charleta Tavares and Nina Turner.

The bill has been referred to the Senate Finance committee.

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