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Kasich Bypasses Bulk Of Lawmakers on Medicaid

Governor uses little-known panel; legislators plan legal action

October 22, 2013
The Intelligencer / Wheeling News-Register

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) - An Ohio legislative panel granted a request Monday from the governor to allow federal dollars to be spent on an expansion of Medicaid that would expand health coverage to thousands more residents.

Ohio recently received approval from the federal government to expand Medicaid, the federal-state health program for the poor and disabled. However, Gov. John Kasich's administration needed legislative approval to spend federal money on an estimated 366,000 newly eligible residents.

The GOP-led Legislature has balked at the expansion, so administration officials asked the little-known Controlling Board, made up of six lawmakers and an administration official, for the authority to spend $561.7 million in federal money this budget year and almost $2 billion next year on expansion.

Article Photos

AP Photo
John McCarthy, Ohio’s Medicaid director, speaks during the Controlling Board meeting on the Medicaid expansion proposal Monday in Columbus.

The board, which handles certain adjustments to the state budget, signed off on Kasich's spending request. It was approved by a 5-2 vote.

Kasich, a Republican, has pushed for Medicaid expansion since he pitched his version of the state's two-year budget in February. The Legislature, in its opposition to that idea, has tried to find common ground on other changes to Medicaid.

Ohio recently got federal approval to extend Medicaid eligibility, but Kasich's administration needed legislative approval to spend federal money on the estimated 366,000 newly eligible residents.

Wanting more people to be covered by January, the governor turned to the quietly powerful Controlling Board, where he would need fewer votes for the plan. The panel - which handles certain adjustments to the state budget - consists of two Democrats, four Republicans and a Kasich appointee from the Office of Budget and Management. State House Speaker William Batchelder replaced two Republican members of the legislative panel on Monday before the meeting.

The board's approval of expansion is likely to spark a lawsuit.

State Rep. Ron Young, one of more than 30 House Republicans who formally protested the Controlling Board request last week, said he expects to be among plaintiffs in a lawsuit being prepared by expansion opponents.

Maurice Thompson, executive director of the 1851 Center for Constitutional Law, said the group would argue in the suit that the board is violating the Legislature's intent not to expand Medicaid.

Medicaid already provides coverage to one of every five residents in Ohio and expansion is one of the key components of President Barack Obama's federal health care law.

The U.S. government promises to pay for the expansion for three years, gradually phasing down to 90 percent. Ohio would get $13 billion from the federal government to cover costs of an expanded program over the next seven years, according to Kasich's officials.

A U.S. Supreme Court ruling gave states the right to refuse the Medicaid expansion without jeopardizing the rest of their money for the program.

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