COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) -- A fellow Republican state official is bucking Gov. John Kasich's proposed expansion of Medicaid, urging GOP lawmakers to reject the plan for the sake of the state's bottom line.
In a letter sent Monday, Treasurer Josh Mandel urged legislative leaders to oppose Kasich's decision, which was incorporated into the $63.2 billion, two-year budget the governor released last week.
Kasich's office said Mandel's advice ignores the benefit the state's bottom line. The governor has framed the expansion as recapturing Ohioans' tax dollars from the federal government -- but Mandel said he doesn't see it that way.
"There is no free money," he wrote to House Speaker William Batchelder and Senate President Keith Faber. "While expanding Medicaid may direct more federal dollars to Ohio in the next few years, in the long term Ohioans will have to repay the debt that is funding federal government spending."
Under the federal health care overhaul, Washington will pay the entire cost of the expansion for the first three years, gradually phasing down to 90 percent -- still well above the state's current level of 64 percent.
Many Republicans are averse to President Barack Obama's signature health care law and resistant to expanding government programs. Kasich last summer called the overhaul a "massive new tax on the middle class" but last week said the Medicaid expansion makes sense for Ohio while maintaining his opposition to the individual mandate.
Mandel said the federal Affordable Care Act was designed to force a choice "between two undesirable options" -- expanding the state-federal health insurance program and taking on related debt, or rejecting federal funding.
Kasich spokesman Rob Nichols said the governor carefully weighed his recommendation.
"This is a complex issue and we don't fault people for not fully grasping it," Nichols said. "The bottom line is that this helps reduce Obamacare's impact on our continued recovery, which takes more in-depth analysis to understand. Keeping Ohio's economy strong, so our state can keep creating jobs, is the governor's top priority."
Jon Allison, of the Ohio Alliance of Health Transformation, a coalition backing the expansion, said Kasich shared the treasurer's concerns, which is why he worked a "circuit breaker" provision into the proposal that allows the state to opt out if the federal government doesn't keep its end of the deal.
"Others including the Ohio Chamber of Commerce and four metro chambers have taken a look at expansion from all angles and have concluded that, if done responsibly, taxpayers can be protected but we can also provide protection for some of our most vulnerable citizens, our hospitals and our community mental health system," Allison said.
On Tuesday, Ohio Right to Life -- the state's largest and oldest anti-abortion group -- also endorsed the expansion.
The conflict came as lawmakers got their first look at Kasich's voluminous budget bill on Tuesday.
House Finance Chairman Ron Amstutz praised the proposal and its "earlier-than-usual delivery," pledging a "thoughtful and open" process.
Batchelder's spokesman said the Medina Republican will weave input from Mandel, a Marine veteran who lost a U.S. Senate bid last year, into the budget discussions.
"Treasurer Mandel has been willing to serve our country on the battlefield and is an excellent public servant in the Office of the Treasurer," said spokesman Mike Dittoe. "(The speaker) thanks Treasurer Mandel for his sincere thoughts on this issue, which the Speaker believes further demonstrates his continuing commitment to the protection of our state and nation."
Ohio Budget Documents: http://www.lsc.state.oh.us/