A high-stakes showdown between Gov. John Kasich and the Ohio General Assembly played out on the front lawn of the Statehouse on Wednesday where several hundred people rallied in favor of Medicaid, a massive government health care program for 3 million low-income and disabled Ohioans.
Advocates, doctors and patients staged the rally on the eve of a scheduled veto override vote in the Ohio House.
Among them were some 160 employees of CareSource, downtown Dayton’s largest employer and the largest Medicaid managed care plan provider in Ohio.
CareSource serves 1.3 million Ohioans on Medicaid, including 300,000 statewide who were able to enroll in Medicaid thanks to an expansion under the Affordable Care Act, an expansion with Kasich embraced in 2013. In Montgomery County alone, 30,000 people are enrolled in CareSource Medicaid programs.
“Literally, lives are at stake,” Steve Ringel, president of the Ohio market for CareSource, said Wednesday before boarding a charter bus at CareSource’s Monument Avenue headquarters downtown.
Late Friday, Kasich used his veto power to reject several changes that his
administration says would lead to 500,000 people losing Medicaid coverage.
It is unclear whether House Speaker Cliff Rosenberger, R-Clarksville, has the 60 votes needed to override a gubernatorial veto. If the House votes to override, the bill moves to the 33-member Senate, which must muster 20 over ride votes.
Natalie Skilliter, owner of the Corner Kitchen in Dayton’s Oregon District, spoke at the rally, urging lawmakers to put “people over politics.”
Skilliter said roughly one-third of her 22 employees are on Medicaid. “Basic health care should be a basic right for all. The idea of cutting back on health care coverage for people who earn less is an idea that places ideology above the basic reality of how we should humanely care for ourselves,” she said.
Columbus area resident Douglas Cantrell said he is worried Medicaid will no longer pay for health care aides that allow his 19-year-old son, Nathan, to stay at home. “He would like to live at home with his parents and his sisters. It’s just that simple,” Cantrell said. Balancing budgets on the backs of the most vulnerable — people who rely on Medicaid — is unfair, he said.
Mary Boosalis, president and chief executive of the Dayton area’s largest health system, is also urging support of Kasich’s veto.
“Our 14,000 employees are on the front lines of caring for our residents who are confronting significant health challenges, such as the opiate epidemic, and they are vital to our state’s success in combating them,” Boosalis wrote in an open letter published Wednesday in the Dayton Daily News.
“This is of huge interest for all of the state of Ohio,” Ringel said. “Not just for CareSource, but for all the hospitals, for all the health care providers, for all the businesses. Because this (the Medicaid expansion) helps keep people insured.”
As part of the Affordable Care Act, the Kasich administration in 2013 agreed to expand Ohio Medicaid to cover single, low-income adults who make up to 138 percent of the federal poverty line. The change led to an extra 725,000 Ohioans enrolling — and the federal government picks up 95 percent of the tab for this group and 63 percent of the bill for other Medicaid patients.
Opponents see the Affordable Care Act — also known as “Obamacare” — and expanded Medicaid as unsustainable. Republicans in the General Assembly inserted into the state budget bill a provision to stop new enrollment under Medicaid expansion beginning July 1, 2018.
The Kasich administration argues that an enrollment freeze would result in 500,000 Ohioans losing Medicaid coverage, lock people in poverty and lead to costly legal challenges. And the state would forfeit millions of dollars now used to fight the opioid addiction crisis, the governor’s team says.
Last year, Ohio Medicaid paid $650 million for drug addiction and mental health services for more than half a million Ohioans, including $279 million made available through the expanded program.
While the battle lines were drawn in Columbus over this piece of Medicaid policy, lawmakers in Congress are considering massive changes to the program, which started in 1965 and has been steadily expanded since then.
Leaders of CareSource see Medicaid as under attack at the state and federal level. Responding to earlier questions from this news outlet about recent proposed U.S. Senate legislation capping or slowing Medicaid growth, Pam Morris, CareSource chief executive, said the legislation would be “devastating.”
“The legislation proposes deep cuts to Medicaid funding,” Morris said. “The outcome would be devastating, not only for the CareSource members who gained health insurance coverage through Medicaid expansion, but for those who have been eligible for Medicaid since its inception. These are mothers, children, developmentally disabled and elderly in nursing homes.”
Staff Writer Kara Driscoll contributed to this story.