COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Ohio Gov. John Kasich isn't just highlighting dollars to persuade state lawmakers to support extending Medicaid coverage to thousands of more low-income state residents. He's also appealing to their faith.
Kasich, one of a small but growing number of Republican governors on board with Medicaid expansion, is openly using his Christianity to tell his fellow GOP legislators that the weak and vulnerable should not be left behind.
He is one of seven Republican governors so far to propose expanding the taxpayer-funded health insurance program — though he appears to be standing apart in using his faith to inspire believers.
The Bible runs his life "not just on Sunday, but just about every day," he said in his annual State of the State address Tuesday.
"And I've got to tell you, I can't look at the disabled, I can't look at the poor, I can't look at the mentally ill, I can't look at the addicted and think we ought to ignore them," he told the audience of about 1,700 lawmakers, state officials and other guests.
How much weight his pitch carries depends on whether conservative lawmakers can get past their worries about the federal law and how much it could cost.
The federal money that comes with the expansion isn't lost on Kasich. He has also framed his decision as recapturing Ohio taxpayers' federal money.
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 Ohio's current level of 64 percent.
Ohio 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 up for coverage under the expansion beginning in 2014.
The Medicaid expansion is one of the key components of the federal Affordable Care Act. Of the nearly 30 million people expected to gain insurance coverage under the law, about half would get it from the Medicaid expansion.
Many Republicans are averse to Democratic President Barack Obama's signature health care law and resistant to expanding government programs.
Kasich — who says he sees Medicaid expansion as separate from the overall law, which he opposes — will have to convince Republicans who control the Legislature to back him, despite the fact that many dislike the federal law's mandated coverage and campaigned against it months ago.
The governor exhorted them in Tuesday's speech to set politics aside as they weigh their choices.
"Put it in your family," Kasich said. "Put somebody that is in your family who becomes the wayward child. And they come home one day, they can't get a job. Put it on your doorstep, and you'll understand how hard it is."
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