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Health care

Groups rally at Bishop Park to push Medicaid expansion

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LORRIE CECIL/THISWEEKNEWS
U.S. Air Force veteran Bob Thurman speaks during a rally at Whitehall's John Bishop Park on May 20 to support Gov. John Kasich's plan to expand medicaid. Thurman is a trustee with the Franklin County Veterans Commission and is a member of the Ohio Veterans Hall of Fame. This was one of several rallies around the state today. Holding the sign behind Thurman is Deborah Steele with Universal Health Care Action Network of Ohio.
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By ThisWeek Community News  • 

About 35 people gathered May 20 at John Bishop Park for a rally to persuade state lawmakers to extend health care coverage to more low-income Ohioans.

The Central Ohio Medicaid Expansion Coalition led the 45-minute lunchtime rally. It was one of seven held simultaneously in regions throughout Ohio and under the umbrella of the Alliance for Health Care Transformation, the state organization appealing to Ohio lawmakers to expand Medicaid to cover more Ohioans.

Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the Affordable Care Act, which President Barack Obama championed, was constitutional as a tax but did not mandate the Medicaid expansion as federal law, instead leaving those decisions to each state.

Gov. John Kasich included a provision in the state's biennial budget to expand Medicaid to Ohioans, extending it to those who are at or below 138 percent of the federal poverty level, but the Ohio House of Representatives removed it.

Supporters want the General Assembly to act by June 30, by either including the expansion in the budget or by alternative means.

The May 20 event was a "Day of Action" as rallies were held in areas of Columbus, Cleveland, Cincinnati, Youngstown and Springfield.

"This is a historic opportunity," said Will Petrik, director of Advocates for Ohio's Future, about the effort to help forge a change in policy that would extend health care to nearly 500,000 additional Ohioans, including an estimated 42,000 in Franklin County -- 275,000 statewide.

"We're calling on (state Senate President Keith) Faber (R-Celina) and (Ohio Speaker of the House William) Batchelder (R-Medina) to extend health care by June 30," Petrik said.

The Rev. Eric Moehring, of Faith Lutheran Church, said although he doesn't understand many things, he understands the need for health care.

"I understand this book," he said, referring to the Holy Bible and referencing scripture in which the Lord commands kings to care for the poor.

"Those who are kings, their prime jobs are to care for the poor and the needy, to take care of the forgotten," Moehring said, likening the kings of the Bible to the political leaders of today. "But our leaders are still refusing to take on this opportunity."

Marty Miller, CEO of Heart of Ohio Family Health Center, said the need for expanded health care is evident in the caseload at the center's two health care facilities.

Capital Park, at Westerville and Innis roads, and Whitehall Family Health Care Center, at Great Eastern Shopping Center, treat patients for a variety of conditions. About 30 percent are not insured, 46 percent have Medicaid and 24 percent do not speak English as a first language, Miller said.

If Medicaid were extended, an additional 3,000 to 3,500 people would be eligible for health care in only the two ZIP codes where the centers are.

Expanding Medicaid would have the added benefit of creating new jobs to meet the demands for health care and create an overall healthier workforce, she said.

"Healthy people mean a healthy workforce and a healthy economy," Miller said. "There is no room for partisan politics in health care."

Bob Thurman, trustee of the Franklin County Veterans Commission, shared the perspective of a veteran.

"They protected us but many of them have no way to protect themselves and their families. That isn't fair," Thurman said, alluding to a growing number of uninsured veterans returning from Afghanistan. "We need to get legislators to understand this isn't bipartisan politics ... but a need to protect veterans."

Randy Runyon, executive director of the Ohio Association of Community Health Centers, spoke in support of the effort. The OAC operates 41 community health centers in 50 of Ohio's 88 counties.

Those who attended the event to observe included Anthony Caldwell, of the Service Employees International Union, and Sherri Smith, with the nonprofit organization, Ebony Sisters Campaigning for AIDS Prevention Education (ESCAPE).

"I'm troubled by the lack of action of the General Assembly," Caldwell said, adding that a ballot initiative is a possibility.

Smith said expanding Medicaid would assist her organization in treating women and, more importantly, reaching at-risk women, who, if eligible, might be able to leave at-risk environments.

"We will keep pushing to get this done," Runyon said.

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