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Medicaid money splits GOP in Ohio

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Ohio’s Republican governor said Monday he will push for expanding Medicaid under the federal health care law, a move that would give many more poor people access to government care.

It also sets up a potential fight among the governor and Republicans who control the state Legislature and are strongly against President Obama’s health care law.

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The state anticipates more than 365,000 Ohioans will be eligible for coverage beginning in 2014 by expanding Medicaid, the health program for the poor that already provides care for one of every five residents in the state.

A broad group of Ohio’s doctors, hospitals, and health providers back the idea, as does the Ohio AARP.

Governor John Kasich, who last summer called the federal health overhaul a ‘‘massive new tax on the middle class,’’ proposed the Medicaid expansion in his two-year budget plan released Monday.

He now must persuade Republican lawmakers to back the plan even though many campaigned against it just a few months ago.

Kasich reiterated his opposition to ‘‘Obamacare’’ because of the individual mandate, but he added, “I think that this makes great sense for the state of Ohio.’’

If Ohio doesn’t extend Medicaid, his administration said, federal tax dollars will be used to expand health coverage in other states and give businesses elsewhere a competitive advantage by creating a healthier workforce.

The leader of the Ohio House has said his fellow Republicans have concerns about the expense of expanding Medicaid.

House Speaker William Batchelder told reporters the idea also poses philosophical questions for lawmakers who oppose the law’s mandate that almost everyone obtain insurance.

Kasich said he views the Medicaid expansion decision separately from the law’s mandate, and he was hopeful that lawmakers would set their ideology aside. ‘‘This is not an endorsement of Obamacare,’’ he said.

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