Bipartisan bill tackles Ohio Medicaid program

ANN SANNER Associated Press Published:

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) -- Ohio lawmakers introduced a bipartisan proposal Thursday aimed at curbing Medicaid costs and making the health program more efficient, as they try to find common ground on the issue.

Republican Gov. John Kasich's budget proposal initially called for expanding the Medicaid program to provide health coverage to more low-income Ohioans. But GOP leaders stripped the expansion measure from the House version of the state spending plan in April, and it's since remained out of the $61.7 billion, two-year budget.

The federal-state Medicaid program for poor and disabled people provides coverage for one of every five residents in Ohio. The measure introduced in the House and Senate on Thursday would neither expand the program nor cut beneficiaries. The bill sponsors described the legislation as a starting point for discussions.

"While I am encouraged by the progress we have made, there is still much work to be done," state Sen. Capri Cafaro, a Hubbard Democrat, said in a written statement.

The House Finance Committee plans to hold hearings on the bill next week.

"We have two objectives: to bend the cost curve down without reducing the services people currently receive, and to help move more citizens up and out of poverty through workforce readiness and the removal of barriers," House Finance Chairman Ron Amstutz, a Wooster Republican, said in a written statement.

The bill 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. It also would create a Medicaid oversight committee.

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

A working group of lawmakers has been separately reviewing what changes could be made to the Medicaid program.

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.