COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) -- After multiple rallies and intense lobbying, some supporters of expanding Medicaid in Ohio are turning to voters as a backup plan should state lawmakers fail to act.
The Healthy Ohioans Work campaign expects to file initial signatures with the state's attorney general on Wednesday in an effort that could put an extension of the federal-state program on ballots in November 2014.
Campaign spokesman Jon Allison said union members and health providers were among the advocates who gathered about 5,800 signatures in four days to support the petition. He said they would still continue to push for legislative approval of the idea.
"This action does not mean that we have given up on the General Assembly," Allison said. "But good business plans and good strategy require that you have options."
State lawmakers have been trying to find common ground on whether to expand Medicaid health coverage to more low-income people since Republican Gov. John Kasich proposed an extension of the program in February. GOP leaders pulled it from the state budget, and the issue has yet to gain traction.
The House speaker recently said his chamber wouldn't be ready to take any action on Medicaid by October, but more likely by the end of the year.
Allison estimated that a statewide ballot campaign could cost supporters between $10 million and $15 million, though he indicated it would be well-funded.
A broad coalition of Ohio hospitals, business groups, consumer advocates and religious organizations back Medicaid expansion, as does AARP Ohio.
The campaign effort must clear several steps to be successful.
Should the attorney general give the campaign approval, supporters must then gather 115,574 valid signatures from registered voters. Once those are verified, the General Assembly has four months to act on the proposed law. If legislators pass, amend or take no action, then a supplemental petition may be circulated to get it before Ohio voters in November 2014.
Medicaid expansion is one of the key components of Democratic President Barack Obama's health care law.
Many Republican lawmakers are averse to the health overhaul and resistant to expanding government programs. They have cited concerns about increasing the national debt and fears that the money from Washington could be cut off.
Roughly 366,000 Ohioans would be newly eligible for coverage beginning in 2014 by expanding Medicaid. The federal-state health program for the poor already provides care for one of every five residents in the state. Washington 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 almost 64 percent.
Ohio secretary of state: http://bit.ly/17s2zgj