Ohio Senate passes $65B budget with Medicaid limits

COLUMBUS (AP) — Ohio’s state budget is headed into compromise talks on Thursday following Senate passage.

The budget cleared the Senate, 24-8, Wednesday evening after several hours of debate and efforts by minority Democrats to turn back limits on Medicaid expansion and a new work requirement for recipients of the government health care benefit.

The Senate plan calls for extending Medicaid expansion for one year. After July 1, 2018, no new enrollees would be accepted to the program covering some 700,000 poor adult Ohioans — and those who dropped off the program by finding better employment could not re-enroll.

Senate Finance Chairman Scott Oelslager, a Canton Republican, said the Senate budget seeks to protect vulnerable Ohioans while also thinking of the burden government places on taxpayers.

“While this was a difficult process, the bill before you today is balanced, it is fiscally responsible, it invests in the citizens and key priorities of this great state,” Oelslager said.

Minority Democrats in the chamber introduced a series of unsuccessful amendments advancing their interest in protecting local government funding, expanding early child education and protecting the environment, among others.

“The wellbeing of most Ohioans has not been improved appreciably since the Great Recession that took place in 2007 and 2008,” state Sen. Mike Skindell, a Lakewood Democrat, said in arguing a state’s budget should do its best to help all citizens. “Many Ohioans have not been dealt a fair shot.”

The U.S. House-passed health care bill would phase out expanded Medicaid, which allows states to provide federally backed insurance to low-income adults previously not eligible. Many people in that demographic are in their 20s and 30s and dealing with opioid addiction.

Ohio lawmakers have embedded added opioid-related spending into the state budget even as they prepare to use the bill to trim the expansion, which Republican Gov. John Kasich pushed through and continues to vocally support.

Lawmakers face a June 30 deadline for passing the final version of the $65 billion spending blueprint, which will fund programs for the two years beginning July 1.

The Senate version closes an anticipated budget gap of just over $1 billion through across-the-board agency cuts, program eliminations and behind-the-scenes accounting shifts.

The Medicaid Coalition, a group that supports maintaining the expansion, said the Senate amendment “misses the mark.”

“Pending any further changes, the Senate’s addition of a freeze on enrollment in the Medicaid expansion will be a death knell for health coverage for hundreds of thousands of Ohioans who have improved their lives and health under the expansion program,” it said in a statement. “In addition to the freeze on enrollment, the bill’s poorly drafted work requirements will ensure that Ohioans will be cut out of health care coverage without the ability to return as their circumstances change.”

The Senate added a provision to the bill allowing a special committee to periodically review the existence of Ohio’s Cabinet-level agencies for possible elimination. If successful, the measure would give the legislative branch of government unprecedented control over Ohio’s administrative branch.

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