Earlier this month, Ohio became the 25th state to decide that it would accept federal funding to expand Medicaid, giving more Americans health insurance coverage that they could not otherwise afford.
The political courage displayed by Ohio Gov. John Kasich stands in marked contrast to Florida’s failure to sign up for Medicaid expansion and the indecisiveness of Gov. Rick Scott.
Like Mr. Scott, Gov. Kasich is a conservative Republican. He is the eighth Republican governor to oversee Medicaid expansion. The decision means Ohioans can enroll in Medicaid if they earn less than 138 percent of the federal poverty level.
In accepting the federal funds, Gov. Kasich offered both a moral and practical justification for his action:
“A human being who’s been blessed, helping a human being who has challenges, is a moral imperative in our lives.” In other words, the state has an obligation to help those who need help, especially when, as in this case, the resources are available from the federal government.
“We get $14 billion of Ohio money back to Ohio to deal with some of the most serious problems,” the Ohio governor went on. “I’m not going to ignore the mentally ill, and I’m not going to ignore the drug addicted or veterans or the very working poor people on my watch.”
None of this should be particularly controversial. It’s about offering those who are among the most vulnerable the chance to have better health. Shouldn’t that be a reasonable aim of good government?
Yet it has raised a storm of protest among conservatives in Ohio because Medicaid expansion is part of the Affordable Care Act that many of them detest. They have gone so far as to file a lawsuit to stop Ohio from accepting the federal money and the way that the governor made an end run around the Republican-controlled Legislature to get the funds.
Mr. Kasich is standing his ground. Apparently, he knows a good deal when he sees it and is not afraid to buck his own party on behalf of a good cause.
Now back to Florida.
Gov. Scott, though opposing Obamacare, did the math and sided with Medicaid expansion here, a sensible move that would have returned an estimated $51 billion in federal funds to Florida over the next 10 years and created an estimated 120,000 new jobs. As a businessman and former hospital company CEO, Mr. Scott understood the bottom-line value of this deal for the Sunshine State.
But when GOP lawmakers in Tallahassee balked and tea party conservatives growled, Mr. Scott blinked. In contrast to Mr. Kasich and some other staunch Republican governors across the country like Arizona’s Jan Brewer, Gov. Scott did nothing to help Medicaid expansion. Florida is the poorer for this failure.
This refusal to expand Medicaid hurts everyone in Florida, starting with the estimated 1 million poor and low-income residents who will not gain access to the state Medicaid program.
Meanwhile, everyone else pays a hidden tax because hospitals are required to treat anyone seeking care who comes through their doors, whether they can pay or not. Rejecting Medicaid expansion raises the number of people seeking emergency care — and the funding borne by taxpayers who support public hospitals.
Ohio has joined those states willing to put common sense and good governance ahead of partisan politics and ideology when it comes to Medicaid. How long will it take Florida to wake up?