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Published: 10/23/2013 - Updated: 5 months ago

OHIO SUPREME COURT

Medicaid expansion challenged

6 lawmakers, 2 agencies sue to have decision voided

BY JIM PROVANCE
BLADE COLUMBUS BUREAU CHIEF
Ohio Gov. John Kasich took his expansion request to the controlling board after the General Assembly did not act on it. Ohio Gov. John Kasich took his expansion request to the controlling board after the General Assembly did not act on it.
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COLUMBUS — Scarcely 24 hours had passed since a seven-member panel agreed to accept $2.56 billion in federal funds to pay for Ohio’s expansion of Medicaid before that decision was being challenged in court.

Six Republican state representatives and the Cleveland and Cincinnati chapters of Right to Life on Tuesday asked the Ohio Supreme Court to void the decision.

The suit names the Ohio Controlling Board and the state Department of Medicaid as defendants. It does not name Gov. John Kasich, who took his request to the board after the General Assembly would not act.

“At least 26 states have explicitly rejected the [federal Affordable Care Act’s] expanded Medicaid spending and conjoined federal funding,” reads the suit. “States that have opted for expanded Medicaid spending have done so only with affirmative legislative approval.”

Kasich spokesman Rob Nichols said the administration would not comment on pending litigation. But the administration has maintained that the vote was consistent with the controlling board’s authority to draw down federal funds that become available between General Assembly budget votes.

A ruling that invalidates the vote would not directly stop the expansion, but it would shut off the flow of federal funds to pay for the additional enrollees through June 30, 2015.

The state has indicated it would run out of money for the Medicaid program about July 1, 2014, if it proceeds with expansion without federal cash. The lawsuit wants the Supreme Court to invalidate the vote before the expansion takes effect on Jan. 1.

The suing lawmakers are Reps. Ron Young (R., Leroy), Ron Hood (R., Ashville), Ron Maag (R., Lebanon), Matt Lynch (R., Solon), Andy Thompson (R., Marietta), and John Becker (R., Cincinnati). The involvement of the two local Right to Life organizations places them at odds with Ohio Right to Life, which joined the coalition of business, social service, health-care, labor, and other organizations to promote expansion.

Maurice Thompson, director of the 1851 Center for Constitutional Law and the attorney who filed the suit, said the administration’s claim that cutting off federal funding would bankrupt the system as a whole is an empty one.

“The governor’s trying to create a false emergency here,” he said. “If the court acknowledges that the controlling board lacks authority, the state will file a new plan with the federal Center for Medicaid Studies. It’s a two-page electronic application. That’s all they filed the first time.”

The federal government has approved Ohio’s plan to expand Medicaid eligibility to those earning as much as 38 percent over the federal poverty level. That’s roughly $32,000 a year for a family of four.

The Kasich administration expects a net gain of 275,000 Ohioans, primarily lower-income working adults without dependent children, in the federal-state health insurance of last resort.

The federal government has promised to pay 100 percent of the expansion cost for the first three years. It then gradually would lower the reimbursement rate to 90 percent.

The controlling board voted 5-2 vote to grant Mr. Kasich’s request. Two Republican lawmakers joined two Democrats and the Kasich administration’s chairman in voting “yes.”

The two “no” votes were cast by Republicans.

The budgetary panel typically moves money around between budget votes of the General Assembly, giving a final look at grants on their way out the door and pondering any changes requested of projects previously approved.

It often accepts federal funds but never before on the scale of the $2.56 billion accepted on Monday.

Mr. Kasich proposed the Medicaid expansion in February as part of his two-year budget proposal, but his fellow Republicans stripped it from the budget.

Instead, they substituted language prohibiting the Kasich administration from proceeding with expansion absent legislative approval. Mr. Kasich vetoed that language before signing the budget bill.

Meanwhile, Sen. Chris Widener (R., Springfield), who cast one of the “yes” votes as a controlling-board member, on Tuesday introduced a bill calling for a 4 percent across-all-brackets income tax cut in 2014 to return to taxpayers an estimated $400 million that the current state budget is expected to save as a result of the federally funded Medicaid expansion.

The cut would be on top of those enacted as part of the current two-year budget.

Contact Jim Provance at: jprovance@theblade.com or 614-221-0496.



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