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Health and Medicine

Faith leaders urge lawmakers to expand Medicaid
Different church leaders around the state are agreeing that Ohioans should have more access to Medicaid

Jo Ingles
Religious leaders in Ohio are pushing the governor's plan to expand Medicaid.
Courtesy of JO INGLES
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Gov. Kasich’s plan to expand Medicaid as part of the new two year state budget is being praised by church leaders throughout the Buckeye state. Ohio Public Radio’s Jo Ingles reports leaders of different faiths, who often don’t agree on social issues, are coming together over this proposal.

Faith leaders urge lawmakers to expand Medicaid

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The Rev.Tim Ehrens of the First Congregational Church in Columbus usually backs Democratic causes like tougher regulations on payday lenders and better work and pay for low-income Ohioans.

But Republican Gov. John Kasich’s plan to expand Medicaid strikes a chord with Ehrens.  And he’s not the only faith leader who thinks it’s a good idea.  The Ohio Catholic Conference, along with leaders of Jewish, Methodist, and Episcopalian and other faiths are also urging lawmakers to support the part of the governor’s budget that includes expanding Medicaid.

Ahrens uses the story of Moses parting the Red Sea to urge lawmakers to buy into the plan to give 600,000 more Ohioans access to healthcare through Medicaid.

“We have to be all in. It’s not going to happen if we just stand here on the edge. ... We have to bury ourselves in the water and go all of the way to the other side. Because if this doesn’t happen, we have walked away from our greatest opportunity for freedom and liberation for 600,000 Ohioans.”

It's personal, too
The Rev. Richard Burnett of Trinity Episcopal Church in Columbus says expansion of Medicaid will help low-income Ohioans. It’s a program he says that has personally affected his life.

“My mother died at the age of 88 after spending three years at a very fine nursing facility here in this city that was paid for and supported by Medicaid. My mother, I believe, calls me to speak today and if you will, she calls you. It would be unreasonable not to support my mother.”

Bishop Gregory Palmer of the West Ohio Conference of the United Methodist Church appeals to an even higher power. He uses Psalms to make the point of why Medicaid should be expanded. 

“Psalm 146 speaks of a God, who executes justice for the oppressed, gives food to the hungry. The Lord sets the prisoners free and the Lord opens the eyes of the blind. Providing the care needed to maintain health, prevent disease and restore health after injury or illness is a responsibility that each person owes all others and government owes to all -- a responsibility government ignores at its own peril.”

Highway robbery
Maurice Thompson, an attorney with the conservative 1851 Center, disagrees with Palmer’s assessment of the scripture.

“That is no version of Christianity that could possibly be real. God’s plan is indeed for us to take care of the poor. But it’s to do it voluntarily through charity. It’s not to do it by holding a gun to the heads of our neighbors and taxing them and then acting though you are somehow charitable because you take money out of your neighbor’s pocket and give it to charity. That’s the opposite of charity. That looks more like highway robbery.”

Thompson says there are two good reasons why Medicaid should not be expanded in Ohio.

“This is a chance for Ohio not to increase federal spending and Ohioans are federal taxpayers that are eventually going to have to pay those bills. And Medicaid expansion dramatically drives up the costs of private health insurance because when the government pays for Medicaid, (it) underpays. And the only way providers of health care make up that loss is on the backs of those who purchase their health insurance privately or through private health insurance.”

Warning GOP lawmakers of primary opposition
Thompson has warned lawmakers who back the Medicaid expansion that they might face a primary opponent over that vote. And if that happens, Thompson says his group will provide help to those challengers. But Gov. Kasich’s Medicaid Director Gregg Moody is urging lawmakers to be brave on this issue.

“Often what I hear underlying the concern is fear. Can we pay for it? Will my decision result in a primary? But we can’t act out of fear. “

Moody and the faith leaders who are pushing the Medicaid expansion plan hope lawmakers will take a leap of faith instead and back Kasich’s plan.

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