Visiting governor supports Medicaid expansion

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HELENA — Ohio Gov. John Kasich visited the Montana Legislature Wednesday to promote a federal balanced-budget amendment — but also got into why he supported expanding Medicaid in Ohio.

Kasich, a Republican, expanded Medicaid in his state last year, accepting federal money to finance health coverage for 367,000 poor people in Ohio.

“We have a lot of demands, as we do in states across the country, for the mentally ill, for the working poor,” he said at a Capitol news conference. “And we feel an obligation to help people get out of a bad situation. ...

“By giving them coordinated care and treatment, we can not only help them get on their feet, but become productive citizens. I think that’s what the world wants.”

The battle over whether Montana will accept federal money to extend Medicaid coverage to 70,000 low-income Montanans is before the 2015 Legislature, with many Republicans opposed. The GOP controls majorities in the state House and Senate.

Montana Gov. Steve Bullock, a Democrat, supports accepting the federal money, which must be approved by the Legislature before the expansion can occur.

Kasich visited Montana as part of a six-state swing promoting a balanced-budget amendment, pushing those states to join the 24 states that already have called for a constitutional convention to approve the amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

“We’ll see where it all goes,” he said. “It will take some work, but it’s very possible that something may pass here in Montana. I certainly hope that it will.”

Rep. Matthew Monforton, R-Bozeman, is sponsoring House Joint Resolution 4, which, if passed would add Montana to the list of states calling for a convention.

Monforton introduced Kasich at the news conference, saying the Book of Proverbs teaches that “the borrower is the slave of the lender.”

“In this country, we’re rapidly becoming slaves to lenders who hold over $18 trillion of debt issued by the federal government,” Monforton said.

Kasich, who chaired the U.S. House Budget Committee in the late 1990s when the federal government briefly ran a surplus, said a balanced-budget amendment would create fiscal discipline for Congress, but would have to be phased in over several years.

“You want to make it reasonable, because, frankly, if you don’t make it reasonable, you’re never going to get it through the states,” he said.

Thirty-four states are needed to call a convention, and 38 states must ratify an amendment to the Constitution.

Kasich said having a balanced-budget amendment would lead to more innovation, as Congress and states search for ways to deliver services with less money.

Kasich also said states can experiment with managing Medicaid, the state-federal program that covers medical bills for the poor — like Ohio has done.

While he’s faced criticism from conservatives for taking federal funds to expand Medicaid, Kasich said it’s the right thing to do, to help people help themselves.

“As we’re trying to figure all these things out, I’m not going to be an ideologue here and say to people, ‘Sorry, the door is closed, and if you’ve got these problems of addiction or mental illness and you’re going to work your way up, we’re not going to help you,’” he said. “I don’t think that’s right and I don’t think it’s a conservative proposition.”

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