COLUMBUS - Changes to the Medicaid health program won't be included in Ohio's budget negotiations, though a separate proposal aimed at curbing the program's costs is expected to be introduced in the Legislature as soon as Thursday, the state Senate's leader said.
Senate President Keith Faber, a Celina Republican, offered few details to reporters on Wednesday, though he said the Medicaid reform bill was bipartisan and has been worked on jointly by both chambers.
Republican Gov. John Kasich's budget proposal called for expanding the Medicaid program to provide health coverage to more low-income Ohioans. But GOP leaders removed the idea from the House version of the state spending plan in April. It's since remained out of the $61.7 billion, two-year budget.
Medicaid expansion is one of the key components of Democratic President Barack Obama's health care law.
Roughly 366,000 Ohioans would be newly eligible for coverage beginning in 2014 by expanding Medicaid, the federal-state health program for the poor that already provides care for one of every five residents in the state.
The federal government would pay the entire cost of the expansion for the first three years, gradually phasing down to 90 percent - still well above Ohio's current level of 64 percent.
But some Republicans in the Ohio Legislature say they fear being stuck with long-term costs and are leery of expanding government programs.
A key lawmaker who helped draft the Medicaid reform plan described the proposal as a "starting point bill."
State Rep. Ron Amstutz, a Wooster Republican, said the goal is make the program more cost-effective while not dropping anyone from the rolls.
Lawmakers also want to help provide a pathway for Medicaid beneficiaries to get health coverage elsewhere, perhaps through the federal law's new health insurance marketplaces or through private coverage. And they want to encourage individuals in the program to access the state's job training programs.
Amstutz, who is also the House Finance Committee chairman, said if lawmakers are successful in curbing Medicaid's costs, then they can weigh whether to add people onto the program.
"We're trying to find that common ground that will help us go forward," he said. "And we aren't there yet, but I think we're making pretty good progress."
The federal law expanded Medicaid to cover low-income people making up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level, or about $15,400 a year for an individual. The provision mainly benefits low-income adults who do not have children and can't get Medicaid in most states.
Amstutz said the proposal currently makes no changes to Medicaid eligibility, and he could yet say whether it would require federal approval.
He said hearings on the legislation could begin next week and move alongside work on the budget, which must be completed by June 30.
"We don't have a lot of time, so it would need to develop expeditiously," Amstutz said.