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Ohio board OKs Medicaid proposal as ballot issue

Ann Sanner, Associated Press

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) -- Supporters of expanding Medicaid can begin collecting signatures in a campaign that could put the issue before Ohio voters next year, after a state panel cleared their proposal Thursday.

The decision from the Ohio Ballot Board is the latest step for the group Healthy Ohioans Work. The coalition of health advocates, labor groups and others wants to see the state extend the health program to cover more low-income Ohioans under the federal health care law.

State lawmakers have been trying to find common ground on Medicaid expansion since Republican Gov. John Kasich proposed it in February. GOP leaders pulled the idea from the state budget, and the issue has yet to gain traction.

Supporters say they would prefer that the General Assembly pass Medicaid expansion than to put the issue on the ballot.

"This is Plan B for ballot," said Matthew Koppitch, legislative liaison for the Service Employees International Union, District 1199. "We're still going to be engaging the Legislature as well."

Lawmakers are slated to return the Statehouse next month after a summer break.

Health Ohioans Work must clear several steps to be successful with their campaign. Supporters must gather 115,574 valid signatures from registered voters by late December. The General Assembly would then have four months to act on their proposed law.

If legislators pass, amend or take no action, then a supplemental petition may be circulated to get the issue before Ohio voters in November 2014.

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

Roughly 366,000 Ohioans would be newly eligible for coverage beginning in 2014 by expanding Medicaid. The federal-state program for the poor and disabled 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.