CLEVELAND — In Governor Mike DeWine’s own words, the newly signed state budget reflects what Ohio values. The $74 billion budget focuses on main points like infrastructure, tax cuts, school funding and access to broadband.
“This budget speaks to what pulls us together and it reminds us that we have so much more in common than the things that pull us apart,” said DeWine.
Gwen Stembridge works with Equality Ohio, an organization that advocates and educate to achieve fair treatment and equal opportunity for all Ohioans. She said the newly signed state budget does speak loud and clear, but said the message isn’t a positive one.
“It makes it clear that there are people who do not want the LGBTQ community to access healthcare and that is not ok,” she said.
Stembridge is referring to a last-minute provision in the state budget that allows healthcare workers, hospitals and health insurance providers the ability to refuse care to someone based on moral, ethical or religious beliefs or principles.
The budget was also subjected to 14 line-item vetoes by DeWine, but he did not veto the medical refusal provision.
“I think we have to respect people's rights and people's ability to make those decisions,” said DeWine when asked why he did not veto it.
Stembridge said adding a provision like this one into the budget last minute is sneaky.
“It should go through the committee process. It should go through the process that a bill goes through, sneaking it in a budget is sneaky and it’s deceitful. It’s a time when they knew people would be distracted and so they snuck it in there and it passed,” she said.
She is worried that the small provision in the 2,400-page budget will have huge implications for the tens of thousand of Ohioans in the LGBTQ community.
“The fear of going to the doctor and of knowing are they going to treat me equally? Am I going to get the care that I need? That is already the question and this just exacerbates that,” she said. “We know that the LGBTQ community, for one we still lack the basic non-discrimination protections, so employment, housing, public accommodations, we still don’t have those protections in Ohio and this just adds insult to injury and says that, even in medical care spaces, we can be denied these basic protections.”
But DeWine said this will not lead to any discrimination.
“People are not going to be discriminated against in regards to medical care,” he said. “This is not a problem, has not been a problem, in the state of Ohio and I do not expect it to be a problem.”
He said the healthcare providers in Ohio are vast and a patient could just find another provider.
“If there's other things, that may be a doctor has a conscience problem with, it gets worked out, somebody else does those things,” he said.
But Stembridge argued that while Northeast Ohio is home to many healthcare providers, rural areas are not.
“It’s going to prevent people from wanting to go and seek care,” she said. “This also could apply to anyone seeking reproductive health care, anyone seeking end of life care, and if a provider doesn’t agree with the way that they’re seeking to do those things they could experience discrimination.”
DeWine touted the budget as an investment towards a bright future, but Stembridge said this provision is a step in the wrong direction.
“This will have detrimental effects in Ohio, there is no question about that,” she said. “I saw the billboard that said ‘Ohio, you can find it here’ and I was thinking about discrimination, now it makes it clear, that discrimination in Ohio, you can find it here.”
Several LGBTQ advocacy groups, healthcare providers and the Ohio Hospital and Ohio Insurance Associations have spoken out against this new law. Stembridge said Equality Ohio will continue to gather those voices and fight against the provision.