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Ohio House backs off from overriding Kasich veto of Medicaid freeze

By Jim Siegel, GateHouse Ohio Media Published: July 6, 2017 11:57 AM
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Medicaid expansion enrollment in Ohio will not be frozen, but the Ohio House did vote Thursday to override a handful of Gov. John Kasich’s Medicaid-related budget vetoes, giving lawmakers more authority over spending for the huge health insurance program.

After much debate both inside and outside the House Republican caucus, the majority did not bring up the Medicaid expansion freeze for an override vote. Speaker Cliff Rosenberger, R-Clarksville, has said he would not bring it up if he did not have the 60 votes needed for an override.

Majority lawmakers added the freeze to the new two-year budget, but Kasich vetoed the measure and dozens of other provisions before signing it last week. The House returned to session Thursday and voted to override 11 vetoes.

Under the freeze, no new Medicaid expansion enrollees would have been permitted after July 1, 2018. And if those on Medicaid at that time temporarily got a higher paying job and no longer qualified would not be allowed to return to the expansion rolls later unless the person is getting mental health or drug addiction treatment.

Kasich has touted the importance of Medicaid expansion in the state’s efforts to battle an opioid crisis that last year killed more than 4,000 Ohioans.

In the explanation of his veto, Kasich argued the freeze violated federal law because it would deny coverage to members of an otherwise eligible group. He said the expansion has improved access to care and decreased more costly emergency room use, and the freeze would halt those improvements “to the detriment of the state’s economy in general and needy Ohioans in particular.”

Both supporters and opponents of the freeze worked hard to push lawmakers, including a Statehouse rally Wednesday and statewide phone banks.

The Senate is set to meet next week to potentially take up the House overrides.

While there is no freeze, GOP lawmakers did vote for the first time to override Kasich vetoes, including one requiring the Kasich administration to come before the state Controlling Board, a legislative spending oversight panel, to get approval to spend the state share of money for the Medicaid expansion. The expansion is currently 95 percent funded by the federal government, and that share is scheduled to slowly reduce over time.

“This is not about winning or losing today. It’s about exercising checks and balances and giving control to the people,” said Rep. Ryan Smith, R-Bidwell, chairman of the House Finance Committee.

The House overrode a veto related to limiting Controlling Board authority. By doing so, the board would not be permitted to approve new influxes of money that exceed roughly $165 million.

The House also upheld provisions that will increase payments to nursing homes and would limit the administration’s ability to cover new, optional groups under Medicaid.

The House upheld a provision that allows people to build up a health savings account and allows the state to charge a maximum $8 a month for monthly premiums under Medicaid.

The House also upheld its vetoed proposal that allows a new insurance franchise fee that will provide more than $200 million per year for counties and transit authorities for six years to make up for the loss of Medicaid managed care sales tax funding.

The House is trying to help counties through a period of tough times, said Rep. Bill Seitz, R-Cincinnati.

Major Ohio business associations had opposed the override.

And the House overrode a Kasich veto of provision that likely will pave the way to fracking in state parks and other public lands.

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