Ohio lawmakers make right choice

Ohio legislators worried about paying the state’s bills are getting a bad rap. Perhaps Buckeye State taxpayers should stand behind them more firmly.

Earlier this year, Gov. John Kasich decided Ohio should comply with the new national health care law’s mandate concerning the Medicaid program. Obamacare, as the law is known popularly, requires states to expand eligibility for Medicaid.

Medicaid, a joint state-federal program, already provides health care assistance to more than 2.4 million Buckeye State residents.

Expansion to comply with the Obamacare requirement would add another 275,000 enrollees.

Advocates of expansion say it is a deal Ohioans should not pass up. Under the current Medicaid system, the state pays about 27 percent of the program’s cost. But Obamacare stipulates that, at least for the first several years after expansion, Washington would pay the whole tab. After that, states would have to absorb only 10 percent of the bill.

That is the promise, anyway. Kasich seems inclined to accept it.

But many members of the General Assembly are balking. In response, their critics – including Kasich, to an extent – in effect are accusing the reluctant lawmakers of not being sympathetic enough to low-income Ohioans.

Speaking to a crowd of people who support expansion, Kasich said, “As Americans, we need to beat back this notion that when somebody’s poor, somehow they are lazy.” He insisted there is a “notion in this country – this growing notion particular among those people who have – that those that do not have are somehow lesser.”

Ohio legislators are far from heartless wretches. Every two years when they approve state budgets, they include billions of dollars to help the less fortunate.

But every dime of that comes from taxpayers, directly and indirectly. And many Buckeye State residents who pay the state’s bills recall that just a few years ago, they were being told there was no problem with the state’s budget.

That simply was not true. Getting the budget back in balance was the most important, difficult task Kasich faced when he became governor, in fact.

Legislators who do not agree with expanding Medicaid worry the federal government will not be true to its word in the long run. They have every reason to be skeptical.

Radical changes in the Obamacare law already have been made by the White House, even before the statute is scheduled to be implemented fully. And no one needs to be reminded the federal government itself, with a national debt of nearly $17 trillion, needs to find ways to cut spending.

A favored way of doing that in the past has been to reduce federal aid to the states. Ohio legislators have no reason to think that in, say, five years, Congress will not decide that 10 percent state share of higher Medicaid spending should not be increased to 20, 30 or even 40 percent.

No, skeptical lawmakers are not being hard-hearted concerning the poor. Far from it: They simply want to ensure government spending does not drive more Ohioans to the poorhouse.