State budget strengthens health care for Ohioans

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Last week, the Ohio House and Senate approved a final version of House Bill 119, the state budget bill, after representatives from both chambers spent considerable hours in conference committee working out differences between their versions of the bill.

It was a long process, but I think everyone involved with drafting the budget can feel good that we passed a measure that truly represents a combined effort between the Governor, House and Senate, and most importantly, takes monumental steps to move Ohio forward and give Ohioans more of an opportunity to live full and prosperous lives.

Over the next few weeks, I will outline several of HB 119’s most significant provisions.

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This state budget bill is perhaps the most groundbreaking piece of legislation, in terms of providing access to appropriate and affordable health care for seniors and children, that has passed the Ohio General Assembly.

HB 119 contains the provisions of Senate Bill 5, legislation I introduced earlier this year that places in permanent law that Ohio’s seniors will have a choice between a nursing home and PASSPORT care.

Specifically, the law expands the Home First program, which was created in the last budget to ensure individuals in nursing homes who wish to enroll in the PASSPORT program have the opportunity to do so. This will not only improve the quality of life for our senior citizens, but save the state millions of dollars annually.

HB 119 also expands health coverage through the State Children’s Health Insurance Plan (SCHIP) for kids whose families’ income falls between 200 and 300-percent of the federal poverty level by allowing them to buy-in to Medicaid.

The bill also expands SCHIP eligibility to cover children in foster care who have aged out of the system, up to age 21.

The state will commit $6 million over the biennium to support this additional coverage for foster children through Medicaid.

In addition, HB 119 establishes a new program, which helps middle class families who have children suffering from serious illnesses and have either exceeded their lifetime health insurance benefits or cannot receive insurance in the first place.

These families will be able to buy insurance for their children through the state, helping preserve the peace of mind and financial stability of families, while preventing the loss of millions in uncompensated care.

In order to spend taxpayer dollars wisely and uphold the legislature’s commitment to reining in the cost of Medicaid while preserving the quality of services for Ohioans, the budget conference committee worked with the Governor’s Office to create the Executive Medicaid Management Agency (EMMA).

This agency will work with the seven state agencies to bring better management practices to Medicaid and help contain costs. Medicaid eats up about 40-percent of the state budget, and it is important that we do everything to keep costs in-check.

In addition, the Conference Committee report includes a provision to allow the State Auditor to conduct performance reviews of Medicaid procedures in various state agencies, in an effort to reduce wasteful spending of taxpayer dollars.

HB 119 accomplishes several goals of the General Assembly—the bill gives more senior citizens choices on their health care, which saves the state money, allows underinsured and uninsured children access to health care and provides effective management tools to help control Medicaid costs.

Importantly, this was all done in a bipartisan manner between the Governor and the legislature.

I believe health care is one of the strongest areas of the budget, and an area that will have a lasting impact on the well-being of all Ohioans.

Senator John A. Carey is a representative for the 17th District. To reach him, send mail to Ohio Senate, Statehouse, Columbus, Ohio 43215, or call his office at (614) 466-8156.