In Ohio, Santorum hits Romney hard on healthcare

By Tom Sullivan
09:12 AM
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What with Texas not partaking in Super Tuesday this time around, today's primary in Ohio is considered paramount to GOP candidates – and the Buckeye State is where Rick Santorum has hit Mitt Romney hardest on healthcare thus far.

Ohio is also the 42nd ranking state in terms of positive health outcomes, despite spending more per capita than all but 13 states – two disconcerting facts that the Ohio Department of Health is hoping to change.

The Office of Health Transformation, for instance, in late January allocated $1 million toward helping medical practices transform themselves into patient-centered medial homes (PCMHs). That initiative is part of both Ohio Governor John Kasich’s intent for the public health agency to engage the private sector to help improve healthcare in Ohio and Senator Peggy Lehner’s House Bill 198, which sparked the Ohio PCMH Education Pilot Project.

"We will not only implement the PCMH program envisioned in HB 198 but expand it to include a total of 50 practices throughout the state," said ODH Director Ted Wymyslo, MD, in a statement. "In addition, we will give priority to practices that serve underserved or minority populations, and at least 15 percent of every practice that receives training dollars must support either uninsured or Medicaid-eligible Ohioans."

Calling the PCMH an “important step in reforming Ohio healthcare delivery system,” Wymyslo added that “a patient-centered medical home leads to better health and reduces costs for individuals and taxpayers.”

That’s not to say that Ohio is a frontrunner among states implementing healthcare reform measures of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA). The Cleveland Plain Dealer reported in May that Ohio was starting to create a health insurance exchange (HIX), then followed that in late July with an account that Governor Karisch is at odds over the HIX with his Lieutenant Governor Mary Taylor – who also happens to head the Ohio Department of Insurance, meaning she’s responsible for standing up the exchange. No fan of PPACA, Taylor even went so far as to write in a Times-Gazette editorial that “as your Lt. Governor and insurance director, I will do everything I can to protect Ohio's citizens and job creators from this catastrophic law."

HIXs, otherwise known as health benefits exchanges, are among the most controversial aspects of PPACA, and “are really not getting off the ground at the rate or speed that was advertised," said John Graham, director of healthcare studies at the Pacific Research Institute. "I don’t think people anticipated that states would entirely say no to the health benefits exchanges, and so there are very few that are taking up these exchanges. States with Republican governors are asserting an ability to set up an exchange primarily for the goal of getting a few million dollars in implementation grants from the Secretary are running into problems with their legislators and their voters.”

Arizona is one outlier in the HIX case, since, despite disdain for PPACA, the state is working to stand up an HIX. But Romney and Newt Gingrich are each making campaign promises to effectively cease PPACA, and that includes what many consider the HIX federal overreach. 

Santorum, meanwhile, reiterating his sentiment last week that healthcare is the most important facet of the 2012 race, charged that Romney is “uniquely unqualified to go against Barack Obama on the biggest issue in this election,” according to a Reuters report. Santorum was speaking at a hotel in Cincinnati suburb Blue Ash. Later, in Lima, to the Romney campaign’s response that Romney supports an individual mandate in Massachusetts but that states should be able to decide for themselves, Santorum rebutted. “I know there’s a difference,” he said, “but it’s hardly a rallying cry for the nation.”
 

For more of our primaries coverage, visit Political Malpractice: Healthcare in the 2012 Election.

Photo by Gage Skidmore.