Expand Medicaid, Say Ohio Hospitals

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) – The head of the Ohio Hospital Association told state lawmakers on Friday that they are hindering the state’s ability to prosper by dropping the governor’s plan to extend Medicaid coverage under the federal health care law.

Mike Abrams, the hospital group’s president and CEO, stressed in testimony to the state House budget-writing committee that hospitals could be forced to slash jobs and services should Ohio not move forward with expanding Medicaid.

“We may not have asked for this situation, but we are playing the cards we were dealt,” Abrams said in his written testimony. He said it was an opportunity to fortify the health care safety net, reform Ohio’s Medicaid system and create access to health care services for Ohioans who desperately need appropriate health care.

The House Finance and Appropriations Committee heard from a host of other witnesses Friday regarding its proposed $61.4 billion, two-year state budget that begins July 1. Speakers included groups on each side of the abortion debate and advocates for the mentally ill and drug-addicted.

Whether Ohio should expand the federal-state Medicaid program to cover more low-income residents remained a top issue before the legislative panel.

Earlier this week, Republican House leaders eliminated the extended health coverage from the state spending blueprint. They said uncertainty in Washington over rules for the program caused them to drop the expansion, which is backed by GOP Gov. John Kasich.

The U.S. Supreme Court freed states from having to expand their Medicaid programs as called for under President Barack Obama’s health care law, leaving them to choose whether to do so. If the state chooses to go forward with expansion, roughly 366,000 Ohioans would be eligible for health coverage, beginning in 2014. And the state would see $13 billion from the federal government over the next seven years to cover those newly eligible.

Hospital and physician lobbying groups around the country have endorsed a bigger Medicaid program. The federal law paired Medicaid growth with cuts to payments to hospitals for treating the uninsured. The idea was instead of paying hospitals directly, states and Congress could spend that money on Medicaid and have those new beneficiaries – who now drive costs with preventable hospital admissions and expensive emergency room visits – use the primary care system.

Abrams said the federal cuts to Ohio hospitals, which he estimated was $7.4 billion over the next 10 years, wouldn’t go away if the state didn’t expand Medicaid coverage.

Republican Rep. Ron Maag of Lebanon told Abrams he had concerns about furthering the nation’s economic woes should the state go ahead with expansion.

Citing countries such as Greece and Cyprus, which are dealing with their own financial crises, Maag asked Abrams, “Where in your mind do you think the tipping point for this country (is)? I mean, I don’t know either, but I think we’re getting close.”

Abrams said he was sympathetic to the argument. But, he added, “We have to deal with the situation we have, not the situation we wish we had.”