Officials: Medicaid expansion repeal could halt momentum in opioid fight

CHILLICOTHE – If Medicaid expansion isn’t continued, Chillicothe Mayor Luke Feeney and others are concerned it could derail local efforts to combat opiate addiction.

Feeney, Michelle McAllister, coordinator of the Heroin Partnership Project, and Cheryl Beverly, founder of Cheryl’s House of Hope, expressed concerns during a brief press conference on Friday.

“Ross County has been one of the hardest hit in the opiate epidemic and we are finally beginning to make headway, but without Medicaid expansion, our efforts will be pushed back tremendously,” McAllister said, referencing in part the decrease in overdose deaths in 2017. “If we don’t have Medicaid expansion, people will die, families will be torn apart, and children will be forced to live with that trauma for the rest of their lives.”

Medicaid expansion was part of the Affordable Care Act that, in part, extended access to childless, low-income citizens and extended the income cap for children to qualify for coverage. In Ross County, there are 24,836 residents currently on Medicaid with 5,777 of those qualifying through expansion, according to data McAllister provided from Job and Family Services.

States were given the option to participate in expansion and were temporarily provided full federal funding to cover the newly covered. Gov. John Kasich decided to participate, calling it the right thing to do despite pushback from his peers in the Republican Party.

Detractors have called Medicaid expansion unsustainable for states which are now taking on more of the costs like they do with traditional Medicaid. As of a November budget forecast, Ohio’s Medicaid costs for the current fiscal year are expected to be about $13.5 billion with Ohio’s share being about $3.8 billion. The forecasts show costs growing 2.7 percent to nearly $14 billion and Ohio’s share being $3.9 billion.

The issue of expansion and the Affordable Care Act as a whole is sure to continue to be a priority issue in the upcoming elections, which is why Feeney said they did the press conference.

“We’re trying to make sure it doesn’t become an off-the-radar issue,” Feeney said of the press conference.

The press conference was organized by Protect Our Care Ohio which is part of a national coalition of health care advocacy groups focused on preserving and improving the Affordable Care Act.

“Medicaid expansion helps families in a lot of different ways,” Feeney said. “We think of it, or I used to think of it, probably, as direct insurance but it’s so much more than that.”

With more people covered, Feeney said those dollars go to health centers, hospitals, and doctors where they can create jobs and wind up in the local economy.

Medicaid also helps in other ways like transportation to medical appointments for the women helped by Cheryl’s House of Hope, a nonprofit sober living home funded through grant and donations. Beverly currently has a pregnant client who has to go to Columbus twice a week for doctor appointments and takes medications to assist with drug treatment.

“(Medicaid) keeps us from overwhelming ourselves with having to raise money for transportation and buys the medications for her,” Beverly said. “She says if not for Medicaid, she would be dead or homeless.”