COLUMBUS — Ohio Gov. John Kasich dropped hints Thursday about whether he’ll push to expand Medicaid under the federal health care law to cover more poor people in the state.
While the Republican governor would not reveal his plans, he did say that he views the expansion decision separately from President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul law and its mandate for almost everyone to obtain health insurance.
Kasich is expected to decide soon whether Ohio should opt for Medicaid expansion under the law, the signature legislation of the Democratic Obama administration. The governor plans to make the decision known when he unveils his two-year state budget proposal on Monday.
Speculation around the Statehouse is that Kasich is leaning toward expansion.
“I think probably many of you suspect what I’m going to do,” Kasich told reporters Thursday. “If you’ve followed me for the last couple of years, and as you’ve gotten to know me better, you kind of know how I feel about things like this.”
The federal government will pay the entire cost of the Medicaid expansion for the first three years, gradually phasing down to 90 percent of the cost after that. Even at those generous rates, however, some GOP governors and state legislatures say they fear being stuck with long-term costs.
Ohio was among 26 states that sued to overturn the law.
While the U.S. Supreme Court last year upheld the heart of the overhaul, it allowed states to decide whether to expand Medicaid.
Ohio officials have been weighing the long-term impact and potential costs of expanding Medicaid against the possible savings.
The state stands to gain $1.4 billion during the next decade with the expansion, according to the study from the Health Policy Institute of Ohio, a nonpartisan policy organization. But most of that revenue would come during the first years of an expanded Medicaid program and eventually level off as the state’s share of the costs increase.
Ohio would save money in 2014 because the federal government would pay a much higher share of Medicaid costs for newly eligible adults, the analysis said. The state also would see an increase in sales and health insurance tax revenues on managed care premium payments.
About 456,000 uninsured Ohioans would gain health care coverage by 2022 under the expansion,
“I don’t view this as Obamacare at all,” Kasich said Thursday during a legislative preview session for journalists organized by The Associated Press. “Obamacare, you know, involving an individual mandate, I don’t support. … But this is a different issue. This is about people who are at the lower economic end.”
Kasich said a top concern for him in weighing a possible Medicaid expansion is whether the state can trust the federal government to continue picking up the bulk of program costs.
Aside from the governor, AP’s forum also featured other statewide elected officials and legislative leaders of both political parties to discuss issues in the year ahead.
Ohio Treasurer Josh Mandel told reporters he would back making Ohio a right-to-work state to help it compete with neighboring states that have banned requirements that nonunion employees pay unions for negotiating contracts and other services.
Legislatures in Indiana and Michigan approved right-to-work legislation last year.
Mandel, a Republican, said he believed passing the law would help grow Ohio’s economy.
When asked about right-to-work legislation earlier Thursday, Kasich wouldn’t say where he stood on the issue.
A group called Ohioans for Workplace Freedom has been circulating petitions for a ballot measure that would keep workers covered by labor contracts from having to join a union or pay dues. Supporters hope the issue appears before voters this fall.
Mandel unsuccessfully challenged Democratic incumbent Sherrod Brown for U.S. Senate this fall.
Asked about his failed bid, Mandel said he and the GOP needed to a better job of explaining to black voters why the party’s principles of economic freedom are good for families in urban areas. “I think I failed to effectively communicate that message, especially within the black community,” he said.
Other highlights from the forum included:
— Kasich was mum on specifics in his upcoming budget plan, but said he expected to see close to a $1 billion surplus at the end of the current budget year that ends in June.
— Legislative leaders hope to take a hard look at improving school safety and changing the way the Ohio draws state legislative and U.S. congressional district lines.
— Kasich accused a liberal policy group and Democrats who are legally challenging his nonprofit jobs agency of intentionally trying to hurt the state’s economy and get back in power.
— Mandel, Auditor Dave Yost, Attorney General Mike DeWine and Secretary of State Jon Husted said they will seek re-election for their offices next year.