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Senate leader expects Medicaid to clear Ohio board

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — The leader of the Ohio Senate said Tuesday he believes the governor's request on Medicaid expansion has enough support to clear a legislative panel.

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FILE - This Tuesday, Feb. 19, 2013 file photo shows Ohio Senate president Keith Faber speaking at Veterans Memorial Civic and Convention Center in Lima, Ohio. Faber said Tuesday, Oct. 15, 2013 that he believes Gov. John Kasich's request for spending on Medicaid expansion has enough support to clear a state panel. Faber told reporters Tuesday that Gov. John Kasich likely wouldn't have brought the request to the Controlling Board if he did not think he had the votes for it. The seven-member board handles certain adjustments to the state budget. (AP Photo/Rick Osentoski, File)

Senate President Keith Faber told reporters that fellow Republican Gov. John Kasich likely would not have brought the spending request to the Controlling Board if he did not think he had enough votes to support it.

The seven-member board handles certain adjustments to the state budget. It consists of two Democrats, four Republicans and a Kasich administration appointee.

Ohio recently got federal approval to extend the federal-state Medicaid health program to cover thousands more low-income residents. But state officials need legislative sign-off to spend the federal dollars on the newly eligible enrollees.

The Controlling Board is scheduled to meet Monday to vote on a request from Kasich's administration to authorize the spending.

Faber said he has no plans to replace the two Senate Republicans who sit on the panel, and he said he has not pressured them to vote a certain way.

"I said serve your constituents, serve your state. Do what you believe is in the best interest," said Faber, a Celina Republican.

It remains unclear how the vote will break down, though Kasich's request would need the backing of at least one GOP lawmaker.

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

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.

Many Republicans in Ohio are averse to the health overhaul and resistant to expanding government programs. They have cited fears that the money from Washington could be cut off.

Kasich has pushed for Medicaid expansion since he pitched his version of the state's two-year budget in February. The Legislature has balked at the idea and tried to find common ground on other changes to Medicaid.

Faber said the Medicaid program needs reform. And he expects the full Senate to vote in the coming weeks on a Republican proposal that sets target growth rates for the program and creates a committee to keep Medicaid costs in check.

Medicaid already provides coverage to one of every five residents in Ohio.

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