Whiplash-inducing Ohio Medicaid costs and enrollment haven’t stopped Ohio Gov. John Kasich from boasting about slowing the program’s growth.
“It’s like the best growth rate in the country,” Kasich said during a Fox News appearance the day he announced his candidacy for the Republican presidential nomination.
Ohio’s Medicaid program is growing at “less than 4 percent,” Kasich assured Fox News viewers. He used an even more impressive number at Wednesday’s Republican debate on CNBC.
“In my state, we took Medicaid — the hardest program to control — and we took it from a 10 percent growth rate to 2 1/2 percent,” Kasich said. “Can you imagine taking Medicaid from 10 to 2 1/2 percent?”
Regardless of what voters can imagine, Ohio’s Medicaid enrollment and spending have grown at a much faster clip than 2 1/2 percent annually since Kasich became governor in 2011.
Using Kasich’s first year in office as a baseline, Ohio Medicaid spending increased by an annual average of 8.2 percent from 2011-15; enrollment increased by an average of 9.1 percent per year.
Medicaid has grown rapidly in Ohio because Kasich added working-age adults with no kids and no disabilities to the welfare program to bring billions in new Obamacare spending to the state.
Ohio Medicaid enrollment rocketed from 2.2 million when Kasich took office in 2011 to three million when Kasich’s first term ended in January — an increase of 800,000 welfare recipients in four years.
With the state slowly rebounding from the 2007-09 recession, Ohio spent $17.7 billion on its Medicaid program for the aged, blind, disabled, children, pregnant women and impoverished families in fiscal 2011.
As a result of Kasich’s Obamacare expansion, Ohio Medicaid spending ballooned to $23.5 billion in fiscal year 2015 — a $5.8 billion bigger price tag than just four years earlier.
Ohio Medicaid spending is expected to total $28.2 billion in 2017, a 59 percent increase from when Kasich took office and an average annual increase of 9.8 percent during Kasich’s first six years as governor.
But Kasich, a Republican, continues to insist he dramatically reduced Medicaid growth compared to his spendthrift predecessor, Democrat Ted Strickland.
Ohio Department of Medicaid data on total Medicaid spending go back only as far as 2008, Strickland’s second year in office. Medicaid spending increased by an average of 9.6 percent from 2008-11.
Eager to distance himself from his big-spending record, Kasich has kept repeating his Medicaid growth talking point since the CNBC debate.
“Medicaid is a program for the poor, and I took the growth of it from 10 percent down to 2 1/2 percent,” Kasich said when Fox News host Eric Bolling asked about Obamacare expansion on Friday’s episode of “The O’Reilly Factor.”
How does Kasich explain the gulf between his rhetoric and actual Ohio Medicaid growth? The governor’s office failed to respond to questions from Ohio Watchdog about Medicaid spending and enrollment.
Nicole Kaeding, a budget analyst who has reviewed Kasich’s record for the libertarian Cato Institute, says Kasich is able to claim fiscal responsibility in state spending because “he has shifted much of the burden to federal taxpayers.”
All Obamacare expansion benefit costs — which have exceeded $5 billion in Ohio — are covered by federal taxpayers through 2016. Because Kasich expanded Medicaid unilaterally, Obamacare expansion was initially separate from the state’s General Revenue Fund budget.
“Governor Kasich continues to selectively choose Ohio fiscal data when discussing his record as governor,” Kaeding said in an email to Ohio Watchdog. “The truth is spending continues to increase each year in Ohio.”
Kaeding noted state taxpayers will be on the hook for a share of Kasich’s Obamacare expansion costs starting in 2017, with the state share increasing to 10 percent by 2020.
Costs are likely to begin crowding out other state government priorities in the near future. In September, Obamacare expansion cost nearly as much as the state’s public safety and K-12 education programs combined.
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