COLUMBUS - The leader of the Ohio Senate said he could have chosen his words more carefully when he likened the decision to expand Medicaid to being given an ultimatum in the face of a loaded weapon.
The comment was "probably inartful," Senate President Keith Faber said Monday.
Faber, a Celina Republican, told The Lima News that President Barack Obama's signature health care law didn't give the state much flexibility when it came to extending Medicaid coverage to more low-income Ohioans. The health care program for the poor and disabled is jointly funded by the federal and state governments.
"They essentially loaded the revolver and pointed it at the states, and said do this or else," he told the newspaper in an article appearing in Sunday's newspaper and online Saturday.
Asked about the comment in an interview with The Associated Press on Monday, Faber said, "That's probably inartful on my part. The point is is that the federal government has put us in a bad situation."
The Medicaid expansion is one of the key components of the federal Affordable Care Act. Of the nearly 30 million people expected to gain insurance coverage under the law, about half would get it from the Medicaid expansion. A Supreme Court ruling allowed states to decide for themselves whether to expand the program.
Republican Gov. John Kasich proposed going forward with the expansion in his two-year state budget plan. He framed his decision as a way for the state to recapture Ohio taxpayers' federal money.
The Ohio Legislature, controlled by Faber and his fellow Republicans, will have to approve the idea. Roughly 366,000 Ohio residents would be up for coverage under the expansion beginning in 2014.
The federal government offers a major incentive: It has agreed to pay the entire cost of the expansion for three years and gradually phase down to paying 90 percent of the cost, still well above the Ohio's current level of 64 percent.
The state budget proposal is being reviewed by an Ohio House committee, which plans to make changes when they return from spring break next week.
Many GOP lawmakers are averse to Obama's law and resistant to expanding government programs. And some question whether the federal government will keep up with its share of the costs or pass along a bigger chunk of the bill to the states.
Faber said Monday he hasn't taken a position on extending Medicaid coverage but believes there should be some incentives for beneficiaries to gain job training and drug treatment.
He said that had the federal government given states the chance to modify expansion, "We would have found a solution that was far better."