Guest columnist John Corlett is the president and executive director of The Center for Community Solutions. Corlett’s career has included leadership roles in both the public and private sectors, including serving as vice president for government relations and community affairs at The MetroHealth System and as the State of Ohio’s Medicaid director. He also serves on the Board of Directors of The Centers for Families and Children, The Greater Cleveland Food Bank, Arts Cleveland and the Woodruff Foundation.

At the beginning of the Great Recession in 2008, our state faced incredible economic challenges. We were dealing with the effects of the housing market collapse. Ohio’s revenues were down hundreds of millions of dollars. Hundreds of thousands of Ohioans lost their jobs. I was Ohio’s Medicaid director.

My boss, former Gov. Ted Strickland, had just come into office and expanded health care for people with disabilities, children, pregnant women and others. But all this and more was at risk. I sat in meetings where we discussed slashing hospital and physician reimbursements by billions and eliminating Medicaid services that states weren’t required to provide.

I’ll never forget telling the governor that durable medical equipment — things like oxygen and wheelchairs — was optional according to the federal government, and that we could eliminate it. He shut down that idea fast.

Medicaid is an important safety net during tough times, and 370,000 additional Ohioans enrolled in Medicaid during the Great Recession.

With increased enrollment — which we anticipate we will soon see again here in Ohio, due to the coronavirus pandemic — comes a greater strain on state resources as the state tries to meet the needs of vulnerable Ohioans and the clinics that serve them.

And, as the state’s director back then, I was left with few options to balance our budget: Cut services, cut rates or limit enrollment. I was thankful back then that Congress worked in a bipartisan way to temporarily increase the amount of money the federal government gave to the state for its Medicaid program.

The government’s action included strong protections to ensure that benefits and eligibility were not cut when people needed care the most. Not only did this help ensure that we could provide the services we needed to without taking money away from other state budget priorities, research has shown it helped accelerate Ohio’s economic recovery.

It was such a good idea, in fact, that Congress repeated this policy in the Families First Coronavirus Response Act in March.

That provision, however, ends when the declaration of the national emergency ends — meaning Ohioans are at risk of losing coverage in the middle of a public health and economic crisis.

It’s important to remember that the majority of resources in Medicaid go to pay for services that cover Ohioans in nursing homes, people with disabilities or individuals who need behavioral health services, including addiction treatment.

Given the particular impact this virus has on those populations, now is not the time to slash coverage to make ends meet. Instead, Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) and Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) both have a chance to show leadership — and to ensure that Ohio’s most vulnerable aren’t forced on the chopping block.

Both senators should support temporarily increasing the amount the federal government gives to states for their Medicaid programs, until Ohio – and America — get back on their feet. If they don’t, they will force Gov. Mike DeWine to confront the same horrible choices we confronted 11 years ago — cut billions in reimbursement to hospitals and doctors, and eliminate those “optional” Medicaid benefits.

The only difference this time is that those cuts would come amidst the worst health crisis we’ve faced in a hundred years and would endanger the health and wellbeing of every Ohioan — covered by Medicaid or not.

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Feds need to give more money to Ohio’s Medicaid program fast: John Corlett –