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Ohio panel to consider Medicaid expansion spending

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — A powerful, but little-known legislative panel in Ohio is scheduled to consider a request from the governor to allow federal money to be spent on expanding the Medicaid health program to give coverage to thousands more residents.

Ohio recently got approval from the federal government to extend Medicaid eligibility. But Republican Gov. John Kasich's administration needs legislative sign-off to spend federal dollars on the estimated 366,000 residents who will be newly eligible.

The Kasich administration is asking the Controlling Board on Monday for the authority to spend $561.7 million in federal funds this budget year and almost $2 billion next year on expansion to cover the new Medicaid population.

The board handles certain adjustments to the state budget. It's made up of an administration official and six lawmakers — two Democrats and four Republicans.

Kasich, a Republican, has pushed for Medicaid expansion since he pitched his version of the state's two-year budget in February. But the GOP-controlled Legislature balked at the idea and has tried to find common ground on other changes to the federal-state program that provides coverage to the poor and disabled.

Medicaid already provides coverage to one of every five residents in Ohio.

Wanting more people to be covered by January, the governor turned to the quietly powerful Controlling Board, where he would need fewer votes for the plan.

Senate President Keith Faber has told reporters he expected the panel to approve the request, and the governor has said he's optimistic.

Medicaid expansion is one of the key components of Democratic President Barack Obama's federal health care law.

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.

Ohio would get $13 billion from the federal government to cover costs of an expanded program over the next seven years, according to the Kasich administration.

Medicaid expansion allows those making up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level, or about $15,860 for an individual, to be eligible for the program. Many are childless adults living in poverty.

Many Republicans in Ohio are averse to the new health law and resistant to expanding government programs. They have cited concerns about increasing the national debt and fears that the money from Washington could be cut off.

The Kasich administration has said the state would be ready to implement an expansion of the program when it gets legislative backing. Newly eligible residents could start enrolling as soon as this month for coverage that takes effect in January.

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