Created on Thursday, 27 June 2013 Written by ANN SANNER,Associated Press
COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Democratic lawmakers in Ohio began an effort Thursday to try to call a vote on a Republican-sponsored bill to expand the Medicaid program to cover thousands more low-income residents after attempts to add the proposal to the state's budget have repeatedly failed.
State legislators have been trying to find common ground on the issue since the governor's fellow Republicans dropped from the state budget his proposal to extend Medicaid eligibility.
The state's Republican House speaker has said any changes to the Medicaid program wouldn't come before the Legislature breaks for the summer, but work on the issue would continue.
House Democratic leader Tracy Heard said Thursday such a delay was unacceptable and showed a "failure of leadership."
Heard and her House Democratic colleagues lined up in the Statehouse rotunda and signed a petition to discharge the Medicaid expansion bill from a House committee.
Democrats, who hold 39 House seats, would need at least 11 signatures from Republicans to release the measure.
The bill's chances were uncertain. Along with the hurdle of swaying GOP lawmakers to sidestep House leadership, time was a factor.
If successful with the signatures, lawmakers would still have to wait at least one legislative day before the measure could be considered. And Thursday was the Legislature's last scheduled session before summer recess.
Heard said she believed there was support for the proposal inside the House GOP caucus.
"We're asking them to find their political courage and do what their constituencies are asking them to do and to move this out of the House before we return back again," Heard, of Columbus, told reporters.
She also called on Republican Gov. John Kasich to put pressure on fellow Republicans.
Despite the challenges, Heard said the effort was worth a shot. Plus, she added, Kasich could call the lawmakers back for a special session to vote on the bill.
The bill from GOP state Rep. Barbara Sears would extend the Medicaid program under the federal health care law. It also includes cost-sharing provisions and aims to control Medicaid costs.
But even Sears said she couldn't sign her name to the petition because she said it would be disrespectful to the process.
Her bill has had one hearing, and she said in an interview with The Associated Press that there should be additional discussions on it to gather more bipartisan support.
Still, she said, "I personally believe we failed by not enacting legislation."
Roughly 366,000 Ohioans will be eligible for coverage beginning in 2014 by expanding Medicaid, the health program for the poor that already provides care for one of every five residents in the state.
The Medicaid expansion is one of the key components of Democratic President Barack Obama's federal health care law.
Opponents of expansion fear being stuck with the long-term costs of the program, which now is being paid for mainly by the federal government. Many conservatives also are philosophically against the idea of expanding government programs and opposed to Obama's law, which calls for mandated health coverage.
A broad group of Ohio's doctors, hospitals and health providers back expansion, as does AARP Ohio.
Supporters have continued to call on the Legislature to take action through rallies and lobbying events at the Statehouse, and some groups have weighed whether to put the issue on ballots before voters.