As Gov. John Kasich prepares to leave office, new reports show Medicaid expansion accomplishments
COLUMBUS, Ohio – Medicaid expansion has made it possible for people to continue working despite their ailments and has given unemployed recipients health care so they can look for jobs, according to new state reports released Tuesday.
The reports highlighted the successes of expanding Medicaid to some 700,000 low-income Ohioans under the Affordable Care Act. Ohio was one of the first states to expand Medicaid, under Gov. John Kasich, in 2014.
Kasich attended the news conference where the reports were explained, and chatted with some of the Ohioans who say their lives have improved thanks to Medicaid. This is the last year the Republican will lead Ohio, due to term limits, and he said Medicaid expansion is one of the policies he’s most proud of.
The main report was conducted by the Ohio Colleges of Medicine, Ohio State University, Ohio University, and RTI International. The second report was a financial analysis by the Ohio Office of Budget and Management.
“It’s not just the people at the top who ought to benefit in any society, it ought to be people throughout society,” Kasich said. “And that doesn’t mean you play Robin Hood and take from the rich and give to the poor. But it means you give everybody an opportunity to be able to do well.”
Medicaid and health care are among the top-searched topics in each Ohio county, according to Google Analytics information shared with cleveland.com as part of a new partnership between the companies.
Medicaid expansion is also popular, with Google data showing keen interest in the state’s largest metro areas – Cleveland, Columbus and Cincinnati.
‘Every single neighborhood’
The number of people who receive Medicaid expansion is constantly in flux, as people enter and leave the program. But since 2014, about 1.2 million Ohioans have accessed health care as a result of expansion, said Ohio Department of Medicaid Director Barbara Sears.
“Medicaid is in every single county, every single community, every single neighborhood,” she said. “You don’t know that your neighbor may just be on Medicaid through expansion or through another part of our program.”
A number of Northeast Ohio adults, ages 19 to 64, have enrolled in expansion from 2014 to 2017:
22.3 percent of Cuyahoga County adults17.5 percent in Lorain County9.9 percent in Medina County19.3 percent in Summit County12.9 percent in Portage County7.4 percent in Geauga County12.2 percent in Lake County
Medicaid expansion cut the rate of Ohio’s uninsured by half, the research found. Eighty-nine percent of people who received Medicaid through expansion in 2015 had no insurance before their enrollment.
A survey conducted for the Department of Medicaid found 60 percent of unemployed enrollees said having health care made it easier to look for work, and 83.4 percent of employed enrollees reported that the health care made it easier to continue working.
Lydia Gunderson of Columbus said Medicaid expansion has meant she is able to go to a doctor when sick, instead of waiting for the illness to force her to the emergency room. She works, but her company is small and does not offer insurance, she said.
“What would you think, if all of a sudden we told you tomorrow, ‘You don’t get this any more?’” Kasich asked her. “How would you react?”
“Well, I would cry,” she said.
Without Medicaid expansion, she’d be trying to pay for her health care on her own, she said.
“I wouldn’t be able to have electricity, or be able to put food on the table,” she said.
Tim Keen, Kasich’s budget director, said that Medicaid expansion actually saves the state money. Medicaid is jointly funded by the state and federal government.
For instance, Medicaid expansion picks up the cost of inmates’ health care when they have to leave prison for hospitalization. Ohio gets drug rebates from pharmaceutical companies for the prescriptions Medicaid expansion recipients fill. These “offets” save Ohio $354.1 million a year, dramatically reducing Ohio’s share of Medicaid expansion.
“It’s my opinion that Medicaid expansion is manageable and affordable now and into the future,” Keen said.
That’s assuming Washington, the Ohio General Assembly and the state’s next governor don’t dismantle the program.
Democratic gubernatorial nominee Richard Cordray said he will keep expansion intact. Republican Mike DeWine said he will make some changes but not discard the program.
Kasich had withheld his endorsement of DeWine until he felt confident he would keep expansion.
“I give him credit for being willing to really study it, and he’s now said he’s for it and this isn’t an issue that needs to be considered,” Kasich said.
“I worry a little about somebody kind of nickeling and diming it away, somehow,” Kasich added. “You know, a little bit here, a little bit there. But I think they’ll be for it. And frankly, in the end, with the help of these people (who work for the Department of Medicaid) the legislature (has) never taken it away. We’ve always had to fight for it.”