Rob Junk speaking

Pike County Prosecuting Attorney Rob Junk speaks at the Pike County Senior Center on Friday as Wally Burden, Pike County Health Commissioner, listens. Local government and area leaders met to show support for the Medicaid Extension provision contained in Governor John Kasich’s proposed budget.

A number of local and area leaders met at the Pike County Senior Center in Waverly on Friday to voice support for the Medicaid Extension provision in Governor John Kasich’s proposed budget (House Bill 59), which is currently being debated in the Ohio General Assembly.

The budget recommendation would extend Medicaid to individuals up to age 65 and up to 138 percent of the Federal Poverty Level. According to Gary Roberts, executive director of the Community Action Committee of Pike County, the extension will cover a number of uninsured Ohioans, including many Pike County residents.

“There are 1.5 million uninsured Ohioans, and by opening the door and covering more Ohioans, our state has a historic opportunity to improve health and safety, create appropriate capacity, provide a major boost to our economy while reducing the cost of uncompensated care and continue important reforms already underway,” Roberts said. “Specifically, if Ohio extends health coverage as proposed in House Bill 59, 1,640 Pike County uninsured adults are projected to gain coverage by 2015.

“This will ensure Pike County has a healthier and more competitive workforce, and Ohio’s economy will be stronger for it.”

When opening Friday’s event, Roberts said the extension would reduce the number of uninsured Ohio citizens by more than 450,000, as well as generate state revenue, create more than 27,000 jobs, and reduce health care costs for Ohio employers and residents.

Roberts said that there are legislators opposing the extension but that, according to the Center for American Progress, there is both a human and a fiscal cost if Medicaid expansion is rejected.

“Any time I hear the legislators talk about the savings that they realize from cutting Medicaid coverage, they never consider the more expensive cost of those folks seeking treatment in emergency rooms and having the taxpayers pay for their care,” Roberts said.

Among the other speakers at Friday’s event were Pike County Health Commissioner Wally Burden, Pike County Prosecuting Attorney Rob Junk, and Ed Hughes, CEO of Counseling Center Inc., in Portsmouth. Hughes spoke about the problems of uninsured people seeking treatment for drug and alcohol addiction as well as basic health care needs.

Hughes said that Medicaid expansion would create the opportunity for people to get the help they need at an earlier stage of their illness, thus reducing the cost of treating the person.

“This is an opportunity to pay now in terms of Medicaid expansion because the cost later is enormous in terms of folks who do not get treatment,” he said.

According to Junk, most of the people he deals with as prosecuting attorney have some type of mental health issue or addiction. He said that as the prescription pain pill epidemic has somewhat declined, users have switched to other drugs, such as heroin or methamphetamine.

Junk said that Medicaid expansion may help people get treatment for addiction before they end up in the legal system and eventually in prison.

“Without treatment, these people are just going to re-offend again and again and again,” Junk said.

“I can’t think of a shooting in recent memory that wasn’t drug-related,” he added. “If these people had the treatment that they need, then maybe, just maybe, down the road, the cycle will stop.”

Burden said that Pike County has been left behind in terms of resources available to the rest of the state and funding. According to Burden, Medicaid expansion is not a panacea to solve all the county’s health problems.

“However, a few jobs here and there and Medicaid expansion can change the health care of this community,” Burden said. “I’m convinced of that.”

Burden and Roberts urged everyone to contact legislators in support of the Medicaid Extension provision. State Representative Cliff Rosenberger’s phone number is 614-466-3506, and his email is rep91@ohiohouse.gov. State Senator Bob Peterson’s phone number is 614-466-8156, and his email is sd17@ohiosenate.gov.

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