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Ohio leader: Work to continue on Medicaid plan

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Proposed changes to the Medicaid program in Ohio are unlikely to clear the Legislature before lawmakers break at the end of the month, the Republican leader of the House said Tuesday.

Ohio legislators have been trying to find common ground on the federal-state health program for the poor and disabled.

"My sense is that, at this point in time, we cannot complete that work, but we will continue the work," Speaker William Batchelder told reporters.

Republican Gov. John Kasich's proposed two-year budget initially called for expanding Medicaid. But GOP leaders stripped the idea from the House version of the state spending plan in April, and it has since remained out. Lawmakers face a June 30 deadline to complete the budget.

An Ohio House committee is slated to hear two Medicaid proposals on Tuesday afternoon.

Batchelder told reporters that he expected there to be a continued focus on the issue even after the Legislature recesses for the summer.

"This is not something that is going to stop just because everybody goes home on June 30," he said.

Batchelder, a Medina Republican, said he had no time frame in mind for a Medicaid plan to be finished. He said legislators wanted to gather additional information.

Speaking to reporters at an event at the Statehouse, Kasich said an expansion of the Medicaid program needed to be done.

"It will either be in the budget or it'll be later," Kasich said. "But I just want to make it clear: I will not give up this fight till we get this done — period explanation point."

Medicaid provides coverage for one of every five residents in Ohio.

One bill being heard Tuesday afternoon is aimed at curbing Medicaid costs and making the program more efficient. It would neither expand it nor cut beneficiaries.

The measure has the backing of a bipartisan group of sponsors, who have described the legislation as a starting point for discussions on how to change the program.

The bill would create a Medicaid oversight committee. It also instructs the state's Medicaid director to limit the growth of the program's costs in a way that would improve the physical and mental health of recipients.

Other changes are aimed at removing barriers that impede a beneficiary's ability to transfer to lower cost Medicaid services. Lawmakers also want to cut down on the number of times Medicaid patients are re-admitted to hospitals or use the emergency room when it is avoidable.

A separate measure would extend Medicaid eligibility to cover thousands more low-income Ohioans, as allowed under the federal health care law.

The bill from Republican state Rep. Barbara Sears would also encourage cost sharing for new enrollees and ensure that beneficiaries who abuse narcotics are unable to access the drugs through the health care system.

Medicaid expansion is one of the key components of Democratic President Barack Obama's health care law.

Roughly 366,000 Ohioans would be newly eligible for coverage beginning in 2014 by expanding Medicaid. The federal government would pay the entire cost of the expansion for the first three years, gradually phasing down to 90 percent — still well above Ohio's current level of 64 percent.

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Associated Press writer Ann Sanner contributed to this report.

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