Columbus -- Advocates for the needy continued their push for expanded government-backed health care May 13, distributing bracelets to state lawmakers that posed the question, "What Would Your Mother Do?"

The latest in the continuing campaign for increasing Medicaid eligibility came a day after the annual holiday honoring moms and in conjunction with a study from the liberal think tank Policy Matters Ohio showing that 153,000-plus Ohio women 19-44 would benefit from the move.

"Medicaid should serve as a safety net or bridge for those moving into self sufficiency," said Sandra Moody, a small business owner in Columbus. "By expanding Medicaid, Ohio creates this safety net for those individuals with limited income, with no income and, more importantly, for those babies and grand-babies yet to come."

Moody was among advocates who spoke at a May 13 press conference at the Statehouse.

In his executive budget proposal, Gov. John Kasich proposed expanding Medicaid coverage to include Ohioans earning up to 138 percent of federal poverty level (about $15,400 per person or $23,050 for a family of four).

Proponents have said the move would leverage billions in federal Medicaid dollars, save the state more than $400 million in general revenue funds and insure 275,000-plus additional low-income residents, many working full time but not earning enough to pay for insurance.

According to the new study from Policy Matters Ohio, "Without Medicaid expansion, young women entering the labor market at low wages and no benefits, or older women with grown children in the same employment situation, will lack health coverage in spite of national health reform. Their wages are too low to pay for coverage but too high for Medicaid."

But opponents, including a number of Republican lawmakers, view the expansion as an endorsement of federal health care mandates and out-of-control government spending.

The Ohio House moved the biennial budget bill last month without a firm commitment to a Medicaid expansion but with a plan to further study the option and develop a plan to meet the health care and employment needs of vulnerable residents.

The Ohio Senate is debating the budget legislation with a vote expected early next month. A conference committee of the two chambers will then hammer out a final version and pass it before July 1, the start of the new fiscal year.

The Ohio House also has formed a separate committee to continue discussions of the Medicaid issues.

Standalone legislation on the expansion has been introduced at the Statehouse, and some groups are pushing for a separate ballot issue to allow voters to decide if lawmakers fail to act.

"Lawmakers have a number of options open to them," said Cathy Levine, co-chairwoman of Ohio Consumers for Health Coverage, stressing the need for an approval of the Medicaid expansion by midyear. "The ballot initiative is really a last resort. It'll be a shame if it comes to that There'll be an expensive campaign. That's millions of dollars that could be used to provide health care to improve out health-care delivery system."

Marc Kovac is the Dix Capital Bureau Chief. Email him at or on Twitter at OhioCapitalBlog.