Ohio governor John Kasich 'optimistic' on Medicaid expansion ahead of legislative panel vote

CLEVELAND - Gov. John Kasich said Friday that he's optimistic ahead of a legislative panel vote on whether the state will extend Medicaid coverage to more Ohioans under the federal health care law.

The Republican spoke at the Cleveland Clinic, using one of the nation's best known hospitals to make a final public push for Medicaid expansion. In Cuyahoga County alone, the expansion would cover over 70,000 people, the largest amount in the state.

The seven-member state Controlling Board is scheduled to vote next week on Kasich's request to authorize spending federal money on the newly-eligible Medicaid enrollees in the state.

"Folks, we have a vote on Monday. Say your prayers this weekend. I'm optimistic about this," he said at the Cleveland Clinic, where he barely mentioned the vote while talking about how health care coverage affects real people.

One of those real people is Summit County's Heather Morris. The single mother has a part-time job, but the company only offers health insurance for its full-time employees.

"It's frustrating to think there are people who think I'm looking for a handout," said Morris. "I can't afford health insurance. I just can't afford it. My medication is the same price as my rent."

The Controlling Board includes two Democrats and a Kasich appointee who are expected to favor the request. That leaves the governor in search of a single vote among his fellow Republicans.

The GOP-controlled legislature so far has resisted Medicaid expansion, which is one of the key components of President Barack Obama's landmark health care overhaul.

The federal government would pay the entire cost of the expansion for the first three years, then dropped to 90 percent -- still well above Ohio's current level of 64 percent.

Ohio recently got approval from the federal government to extend its Medicaid eligibility. But Republican Kasich's administration needs legislators to sign off on spending federal dollars on the estimated 366,000 residents who will be newly eligible. For that approval, Kasich turned to the Controlling Board, which handles certain adjustments to the state budget.

The Kasich administration has asked for the authority to spend $561.7 million in federal funds this budget year and almost $2 billion next year on expansion to cover the new Medicaid population.

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