COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Supporters of extending health coverage to more low-income Ohioans are exploring whether an expansion of Medicaid could be put to a statewide vote.
The Center for Community Solutions has hired legal counsel for guidance on bringing a possible ballot issue to voters, said John Begala, executive director of the Cleveland-based policy organization. The organization also is contacting other groups to gauge their interest should signatures need to be gathered for an initiative.
"It's definitely doable — more likely in 2014 than 2013," Begala said in an interview Wednesday.
Republican Gov. John Kasich proposed the Medicaid expansion in his state budget plan, but GOP leaders in the Ohio House dropped it from the spending blueprint last month before sending it to the Senate.
The Medicaid proposal hit another roadblock last week. Senate President Keith Faber announced his chamber's version of the budget won't include Medicaid expansion, but he said Medicaid "reform" is not dead.
Meanwhile, Democrats in the Ohio Senate have introduced a bill that mirrors Kasich's proposal, seeking to bring the idea to a stand-alone vote.
Begala said he's hopeful the General Assembly and the Kasich administration will come up with a solution before petitions circulate for a ballot issue.
"Our first preference is certainly not to go this route," he said. "This is the last resort."
The Medicaid expansion is one of the key components of the federal Affordable Care Act. Of the nearly 30 million people in the U.S. expected to gain insurance coverage under the law, about half would be covered if Medicaid's expanded.
The federal law expanded Medicaid to cover low-income people making up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level, or about $15,400 a year for an individual. The provision mainly benefits low-income adults who do not have children and can't get Medicaid in most states.
A Supreme Court ruling allowed states to decide for themselves whether to expand the program. Roughly 366,000 Ohio residents would be eligible for coverage under the Medicaid expansion beginning in 2014 if it's approved.
The governor has spent the last three months trying to persuade state lawmakers to go along with extending Medicaid coverage by drawing on a wide-range of people for support, from hospital executives to food bank operators. The idea has broad support from the Ohio Chamber of Commerce, consumer advocates, religious groups and AARP Ohio.
Begala said he's not sure what the wording for a ballot issue would look like, but emphasized he believed the Legislature had plenty of time this year to come up with a plan to provide health coverage to more Ohioans.
"The bottom line on this is to get coverage for lower-income workers," he said.