COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Gov. John Kasich implored supporters of the state's food banks on Thursday to help him convince his fellow Republicans in the Legislature to extend Medicaid coverage to thousands of low-income Ohio residents.
"I need you in there talking to Republicans particularly about what this means," Kasich told a gathering of representatives from food banks across the state and the farmers they work with to get food.
The GOP controls both chambers of the Legislature, whose approval Kasich needs to expand coverage under the taxpayer-funded health insurance program.
"They have good hearts, but we have to reach some of the hearts of the people that aren't yet convinced," Kasich said of his Republican colleagues.
Under President Barack Obama's signature health care law, Medicaid expansion was initially mandatory. But the U.S. Supreme Court made it optional for states.
Kasich included his decision to expand coverage in his two-year state budget proposal. State lawmakers are currently holding hearings on the plan.
Many Republicans are averse to the Democratic president's law and resistant to expanding government programs.
Mike Dittoe, a spokesman for the Ohio House Republicans, said GOP lawmakers aren't questioning Kasich.
"The debate surrounding the governor's plan is, for some members, whether or not we are in a fiscal position to add more people to the state's Medicaid rolls," Dittoe said. "And really, the bigger question is whether or not the federal government will live up to its commitment?"
The federal-state health program for the poor already provides care for one of every five residents in the state. Currently, 2.3 million people in Ohio are covered under the nearly $19 billion Medicaid program.
The federal government will pay the entire cost of the Medicaid expansion for the first three years, gradually phasing down to 90 percent — still well above the current level of 64 percent. Even at those generous rates, however, some state lawmakers say they fear being stuck with long-term costs.
Dittoe said the GOP caucus believes in helping the poor and less fortunate in some way. "It's a matter of how we go about doing that."
The state would see $13 billion from the federal government over the next seven years to cover those newly eligible for Medicaid, according to the Kasich administration. Roughly 366,000 Ohio residents would be eligible for coverage under the expansion beginning in 2014.
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