COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Gov. John Kasich once again stood against fellow Republicans in the Ohio Legislature on Friday to support Medicaid expansion, which now provides health insurance to 700,000 low-income Ohioans.
The 2016 presidential contender vetoed a proposed freeze of the expansion and 46 other items from Ohio's state budget before signing it just ahead of a midnight deadline Friday.
"I understand the fiscal concerns that we have, but we've been able to manage it," Kasich said. "I wouldn't do anything that's going to put the state in a position of where we couldn't have fiscal stability."
Conservatives had called on the outspoken Kasich to set a national example by leaving in place state budget provisions calling for freezing new expansion enrollment starting July 1, 2018, and preventing those who drop off from re-enrolling. Exemptions were written into the bill for those undergoing mental health or drug addiction treatment, but the administration said they had no legal force.
Kasich said he believes the state and nation "can deal with the fact that people have needs and at the same time we can be fiscally responsible." He noted the expansion has yielded Ohio nearly $300 million for opiate addiction, double what the Legislature had allotted in the budget.
He is one of the Republican Party's staunchest defenders of the expansion made possible under the federal health care law now targeted for replacement by his party. He was forced to make an end-run around GOP lawmakers in 2013 to become one of the first Republican governors to take advantage of the option.
This time, they have the option to defy him.
The Republican-led Legislature already has scheduled sessions Thursday where they'll attempt an override vote. Ohio's Republican legislators face potential pushback from their constituents in the politically divided battleground state for not acting to curb government health care spending.
Ohio's expansion population is larger than originally expected, costing almost $5 billion — though most of that is picked up by the federal government. Many of those on the program are the working poor, mentally ill or drug addicted.
The Kasich administration has estimated that 500,000 Ohioans could lose coverage under a freeze within the first 18 months.
Anticipating his veto, Republican budget writers made sure not to count on savings from the freeze to make the budget balance, as the state constitution requires.