Ohio Gov. John Kasich defended his decision to expand government health care to over 450,000 in his state during a stop at the Idaho Capitol Friday.
Kasich, on a six-state tour stumping for an amendment to the U.S. Constitution that would force federal lawmakers to balance the national budget, said his compassion guided him to expand Medicaid under Obamacare.
“Empathy is one of the values lost in this country,” Kasich said after delivering his remarks on the balanced budget amendment. He also referred to Bible verses about caring for the sick and needy to justify his embrace of Obamacare.
Kasich said his Medicaid expansion and his amendment proposal aren’t in conflict because he’s working within the system as-is to draw federal dollars to his state. If there’s fiscal reform in the future, Kasich said he’s willing to work with less money as long as the dollars come without federal strings.
“I’ve taken Ohioans’ money back,” Kasich said. The Obamacare expansion is paid for with new federal spending.
Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion was meant to be mandatory when the law passed in 2010, but a 2012 Supreme Court ruling made expansion optional for states. Through 2016, the federal government promises to cover 100 percent of enrollee benefit costs, but that slides down to a 90-10 split by 2020.
Kasich said if the federal government changes the terms of the Obamacare expansion, he’ll back out.
“I’ll withdraw,” Kasich promised. “I’m not a weak governor. A deal is a deal.”
It’s not unthinkable Congress could reduce funding for the Obamacare expansion as part of efforts to address the national debt, which exceeds $18 trillion. Federal lawmakers have introduced legislation to cut the federal government’s share of the Medicaid match, which would leave states on the hook for billions of dollars in spending.
Jason Hart, a reporter for Watchdog.org and Ohio Watchdog, told IdahoReporter.com Friday Kasich’s Medicaid expansion is projected to cost taxpayers over $50 billion in federal dollars plus $4 billion in state money by 2022.
Hart also noted Kasich’s estimated July 2015 expansion enrollment of 366,000 was well short of the 450,000 who had already signed up by last November.
Idaho hasn’t expanded its Medicaid program, despite three recommendations from a work group to take that route. Gov. Butch Otter stopped short of endorsing full expansion in this State of the State address earlier this year, but he did say he liked parts of the panel’s suggestions.
In a press conference after his State of the State, Otter urged lawmakers to hold hearings on Medicaid expansion this year.
If lawmakers go that direction, it could add at least 100,000 residents to the program. That would add to the 260,000 Idahoans who already receive Medicaid benefits.
The state agency wants to spend more than $500 million on the expense this year, up more than 3 percent from last year.
Kasich didn’t just endorse Medicaid expansion as a means to stimulating an economy with federal dollars. The Ohio executive suggested states grabs as much cash for any partnership programs while they can.
“The more dollars you get back to Idaho, the better off you’ll be,” Kasich explained.
But, Idaho’s already entrenched in that process. Just about 36 percent of the state’s overall budget comes from the federal government, up from 33 percent in 2004. A recent records request revealed Idaho agencies boast hundreds of federal funding grants. That request took 92 pages to detail all the federal money.
Additionally, Idaho is already a top welfare state. A report released last year revealed Idaho as very reliant on federal dollars. For every dollar Idaho taxpayers put into the federal pot, they get $1.40 back.
Upon questioning about how Idaho would deal with budget cuts associated with his balanced budget amendment proposal, Kasich said a thoughtful plan could guide the state through any hardships.
“You have to be reasonable about this,” the governor said.
An Idaho Freedom Foundation poll released Friday revealed 46 percent of voters polled opposed Medicaid expansion in the Gem State. Another 39 percent supported the idea and the rest were undecided.
The poll, conducted in conjunction with the Foundation for Government Accountability, surveyed 504 Idahoans. It had a margin of error of plus-or-minus 4.36 percent.
Note: The Idaho Freedom Foundation publishes IdahoReporter.com. Additionally, the author of this article contributes to Watchdog.org.