Though the General Assembly ultimately did not include Governor Kasich’s proposed expansion of Medicaid coverage to low-income workers in the state’s recently passed budget bill, House Bill 59, members have been spending time this summer continuing the debate and hearing from witnesses. House Speaker William Batchelder (R-Medina) said multiple times that his chamber would pass some kind of Medicaid reform, and though he did not know what form it would take, it is scheduled to be the House’s top priority once they return in October. Referring to it as “reform” rather than “expansion,” Speaker Batchelder said members are having issues with drafting legislation “because a lot of things supposed to be a part of the federal proposal are not in regulatory reform.” The Speaker has discussed Medicaid reform goals in the past, including getting recipients off of drugs and helping them find jobs if they do not have one. Medicaid expansion is likely to be an uphill battle with some House members, as exemplified by the recent introduction of House Bill 255, a measure to decrease Medicaid eligibility rather than expand it. Speaker Batchelder said attitudes have been constantly changing among his members, with some who originally supported an expansion backing away from it, and others who were opposed coming around to the idea. Both Speaker Batchelder and Senate President Keith Faber (R-Celina) have acknowledged that some form of legislation must be in place quickly if the state hopes to be ready by the January 1, 2014, deadline for full federal reimbursement of the cost of expansion.
Meanwhile, backers of the Medicaid expansion have launched an initiated statute petition drive that could put the issue before voters in 2014 if the Legislature does not act before then. Under an initiated statute, backers would need to collect 115,574 valid signatures to put the issue before the General Assembly. If the Legislature did not act within four months, proponents would be able to collect another 115,574 signatures to put it on the ballot.
As of the beginning of September, 28 states are moving toward Medicaid expansion -- with 20 participating; four leaning toward participating (including Ohio); one has enacted an alternative model and three are considering an alternative model.
Study committees take legislators on the road
While the House and Senate have been busy with the Medicaid debate this summer, the House also has used the time to send multiple members to various locations around the state to hear from Ohioans on tax reform, higher education and prescription drug addiction health care reform. Representative Cliff Rosenberger (R-Clarksville) is overseeing the higher education reform committee, Representative Robert Sprague (R-Findlay) is chairing the prescription drug addiction and health care reform committee, and Representative Gary Scherer is leading the tax reform committee. House Speaker Batchelder (R-Medina) undertook similar efforts in the previous General Assembly, appointing legislative study committees on Ohio's tax structure, workforce development and use of technology in state government. “One of the most important responsibilities of the Legislature is to provide review and oversight on state policies, programs and initiatives to ensure they are being utilized efficiently and effectively,” Batchelder said in a statement. “The committees present an opportunity to hear from experts and others impacted by these policies to learn more and help us make well-informed policy decisions.”
The hearings have been open to the public -- with the panels hearing testimony from both invited participants and the general public. It remains to be seen if any legislation will develop from these hearings, but they were all hot topics of debate during the recent budget process and it would not be surprising to see the House unveil new legislation in these areas this fall.
The higher education and tax reform committees each have one final hearing scheduled this month. The higher education committee is scheduled to meet on Thursday, September 19, at Kaplan College in Dayton from 1 to 3 p.m. on the topic of “Serving Non-Traditional Students.” The tax reform committee, which has focused on all taxes but the municipal income tax thus far, will switch gears to focus only on the municipal income tax at its last meeting in Columbus in Statehouse Room 313 on Tuesday, September 17, starting at 1 p.m.