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Medicaid expansion backers eye Ohio ballot effort

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COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Backers of Medicaid expansion have started gathering initial signatures in an effort that could put the idea before Ohio voters if the Republican-controlled Legislature fails to act.

A formal announcement about the campaign and its players is expected to come next week, Jon Allison of the Ohio Alliance for Health Transformation said Friday.

State lawmakers have been trying to find common ground on whether to expand Medicaid health coverage to more low-income people since Republican Gov. John Kasich proposed an extension of the program in February. GOP leaders pulled it from the state budget, and the issue has yet to gain traction.

The House speaker recently said his chamber wouldn’t be ready to take any action on Medicaid by October, but more likely by year’s end.

Allison’s broad coalition of Ohio hospitals, business groups, consumer advocates and religious organizations supports Medicaid expansion, as does AARP Ohio. And they’re focused on get state lawmakers to approve the program’s extension, Allison said.

“Legislative action to authorize Medicaid expansion remains the No. 1 priority,” he said in a phone interview.

A petition to get the proposal on the ballot must clear a variety of hurdles to be successful. Supporters have to gather a certain number of valid signatures from registered voters. Once those are verified, the General Assembly has four months to act on the proposed law. If legislators pass, amend or take no action, then supplemental petitions may be circulated to get it before Ohio voters in November 2014.

The Columbus Dispatch first reported Friday that signatures were being collected in the ballot effort.

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

Many Republican lawmakers are averse to the health overhaul 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.

Roughly 366,000 Ohioans would be newly eligible for coverage beginning in 2014 by expanding Medicaid. The federal-state health program for the poor already provides care for one of every five residents in the state. Washington 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 almost 64 percent.

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