Legislative Update:  On Medicaid Expansion

On Monday, October 21st, a little known committee was thrust into the national spotlight when the Ohio Controlling Board voted 5-2 to effectively bring Ohio into compliance with the Affordable Care Act (ACA).  The following day, several conservative lawmakers along with the Buckeye Institute filed a suit in the Ohio Supreme Court challenging the constitutionality of that decision.

Though I fully support the intent of the Controlling Board, I also share concern about the constitutionality of such an act, and, more importantly, the precedent it sets.  What makes this drama even more macabre is the fact that the same conservatives who now bring legal action were part of a larger group who blocked a straight up or down vote on the issue in the first place.  We simply would not be in this legal predicament if the House and Senate had been able to vote “yes” or “no” on Medicaid expansion.

Here are the pertinent facts in chronological order leading up to the actions by the Controlling Board: 1) The ACA was passed by both chambers of Congress and subsequently signed into law in March, 2010; 2) In 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court held that the ACA was constitutional, but that the Medicaid expansion provision should be left to each, individual state; 3) The federal government, in compliance, allocated hundreds of millions of dollars to Ohio for the purpose of Medicaid expansion on October 1, 2013.  Those funds had to be deposited in an account, and that is precisely what the actions of the Controlling Board did—a fund was created and the Ohio Department of Medicaid was thus empowered to administer and dispense the same.

We are a people who created and believe in a government whereby the will of the majority is paramount while, concurrently, the rights of the minority to speak, criticize, and dissent is protected.  However, in the recent federal government shutdown and, in the State of Ohio, the non-vote on Medicaid expansion, a minority of the majority party usurped our democratic credo and held that party hostage.

In Ohio’s scenario, Rep. Barbara Sears, a Republican lawmaker, early-on recognized the reality of the situation, sought to address a good number of compliance issues, won the support of her Democratic Party colleagues, but was ultimately denied the opportunity to bring her legislation to a floor vote.  Instead, the leadership of her own party dithered and remained intransigent.

In the end, approval of the Controlling Board was the only viable option to expand Medicaid.  And now, those who were complicit in the obstruction of expansion have filed suit to challenge the authority of the Board to do that which the legislature failed to do.

I was, and remain, a staunch supporter of Medicaid expansion.  The Affordable Care Act is the law, it was deemed to be constitutional, and we needed to accept those facts and prepare for its implementation.  Numerous groups, from both the right and left, supported expansion (including the reliably conservative Ohio Chamber of Commerce) and lobbied hard for its implementation for both moral and economical reasons.

On a higher plain, Medicaid expansion was the correct ethical decision to make.  Teddy Roosevelt, a Republican himself, championed national healthcare in 1912—over one hundred years ago—as being the right and just, moral and ethical course of action.  But Roosevelt’s “New Nationalism” was based itself on the ideals of yet another Republican who said, “I hold that while man exists it is his duty to improve not only his condition, but to assist in ameliorating mankind….”  Those remarks were uttered in 1861, in Cincinnati, by none other than Abraham Lincoln.

I believe that there are values which transcend party affiliation.  Universal access to affordable healthcare is steeped in such a value.  Therefore, let there be no doubt that as your state legislator, I am proud to stand with Roosevelt and Lincoln to “assist in ameliorating mankind…” at this time, and for all time.


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