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If we needed more proof of why Ohio Republicans are the reason we can’t have nice things, it turns out that Governor John Kasich’s controversial Medicaid expansion had some ulterior motives all along. According to a recent article in The Columbus Dispatch, Kasich’s administration is full of CVS lobbyists who have been given cushy jobs with the state’s Medicaid system – jobs that enable them to rig the pricing of drugs and give CVS exclusivity when it comes to the needs of some Medicaid customers.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise to Ohioans that King John was actually never about “compassionate conservatism” or anything like that, but saw Medicaid expansion as a way to get more money to the people who like to count it – people with a connection to his administration. With CVS’ price gouging, Ohioans are paying up to six times more than the actual cost of providing the drugs, and patients who need medications for diseases like HIV have to exclusively buy them from CVS. Furthermore, the relationship between the Kasich administration and CVS has grown even cozier, as the Department of Medicaid shared a report on drug pricing with CVS before sharing it with the lawmakers who have been critical. When Kasich officials were finally asked to make the report available, they did so three weeks later and provided only a summary, leaving most of the hard questions still unanswered.

There are individuals who could be answering these questions, but naturally they’ve been kept from publicly doing so. CVS lobbyist Bridget McAuliffe is married to Kasich’s director of cabinet affairs, Matt McAuliffe. Another lobbyist, Jason Mauk, was the Ohio Senate’s chief of staff and is now serving on the Ohio Republican Senate Campaign Committee. Margaret Scott, who used to work with the Department of Medicaid, was simultaneously working with CVS as a pharmacist as well as a clinical advisor. In Scott’s case, her situation was being reviewed by the Ohio Ethics Commission at one point, although officials have declined to talk about it since then. It’s also worth noting that CVS has contributed over $28,000 to more than 30 state lawmakers in the last two years, mostly Republicans.

Fortunately, some lawmakers on the Joint Medicaid Oversight Committee have been sharply focused on these controversies since January. The Medicaid program first reported drug spending had increased by 21 percent earlier this year, despite the cost of generic drugs dropping and pharmacists reporting fewer reimbursements for the prescriptions they’ve been filling. The Dispatch’s reporting has only highlighted these issues, as the structure of Kasich’s Medicaid system makes it hard to get real answers. CVS’ pricing data is kept secret due to its agreements with Medicaid healthcare plans, which in turn is getting blamed on drugmakers. No matter what, it’s a shameful culture of secrecy within an industry that desperately needs a transparent overhaul from top to bottom. Whether you’re a liberal concerned about inadequate state healthcare or a conservative upset with the misuse of taxpayer dollars, there’s something for everyone to be mad about when it comes to Kasich’s brand of crony capitalism.

However, this is all par for the course with Kasich and the Ohio Republican Party. No matter what kind of facade they try to put on – whether they say they’re helping Ohio’s economy or invigorating the free market – everything always seems to come down to if their donors and lobbyist friends are making enough money off the administration's policies. For example, take the ECOT scandal that has cost Ohio taxpayers more than $80 million (that we know of) because ECOT lobbyists donated to Ohio Republicans to make sure their corrupt electronic school was allowed to do business with Ohio’s education system. Despite the blatant finagling of records that allowed ECOT to keep getting taxpayer dollars, it was never actually meeting the state’s educational standards. Combine this with Ohio Republicans delaying a critical vote on a high-risk lending bill, all because the disgraced former speaker of the house Cliff Rosenberger and many others were taking donations and vacations on the lenders’ lobbyists’ dime. Then there’s the complete lack of transparency with JobsOhio, where Kasich’s cronies have just been picking winners and losers in Ohio’s economy on their own accord. Behind all of this is one similar key component – a policy of pay to play shrouded by a cloak of secrecy, a typical symptom of a political party with too much power and control for far too long.

Thankfully we have good journalists in place around the statehouse and some elected officials on both sides of the aisle who want to see this culture of corruption corrected. These elements, in addition to minor political parties offering voters a starkly more responsible choice in November, points to hope for some transparency eventually in the Buckeye State.

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