State responds to Medicaid expansion lawsuit


State attorneys today defended a decision to accept federal funds to expand Medicaid health coverage to 275,000 low-income, uninsured Ohioans, refuting legal claims that the move violated state law or Ohio’s constitution.

In written arguments filed with the Ohio Supreme Court, state attorneys argued that the Controlling Board, a legislative-spending oversight panel, acted within its authority when it approved the expenditure of $2.56 billion in federal aid at the request of Gov. John Kasich’s administration. The funds were provided under the Affordable Care Act after the state Medicaid department decided to expand eligibility for the tax-funded health care.

Attorneys stressed that the lawsuit challenges the controlling board’s approval of the spending; not the administration’s decision to expand Medicaid.

“Respondents....deny that the Department of Medicaid’s decision to provide coverage to the lower income Ohioans who meet eligibility criteria set forth under the federal law, as opposed to the subsidiary decision to authorize the Department of Medicaid to spend the additional (and entirely) federal money it will receive as a result of that decision, is at issue in this case,” State Solicitor Eric E. Murphy wrote in his 18-page brief.

He also rejected claims that accepting the federal aid to extending coverage to poor, uninsured Ohioans would “jeopardize unborn life.”

Murphy was responding to a lawsuit filed by six Republican members of the Ohio House and two local Right to Life chapters trying to block Kasich’s effort to expand Medicaid. The Ohio Supreme Court last week agreed to speed up the case at the request of those filing the lawsuit who would like it to be resolved before Jan. 1 when health coverage for the newly eligible will become available.

Maurice Thompson, the attorney representing them, claims “dire budgetary consequences could ensue” should expansion not be blocked.

After the Republican-led legislature rejected Kasich’s request to expand Medicaid, the governor took administrative action, directing his Medicaid chief to seek federal approval. After federal regulators agreed, the administration asked the Controlling Board to approve the expenditure of federal funds to pay expansion costs.

Under the shortened court calendar, all pre-trial written arguments from both sides are due by early December.

The Affordable Care Act provides for the federal government will pay the entire cost of expanding state Medicaid programs for three years beginning Jan. 1, and 90 percent or more in subsequent years. Expanding coverage to all Ohioans with incomes up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level — just under $16,000 a year for an individual — is expected to bring $13 billion in federal money to the state during the next seven years. Most of those gaining coverage will be adults under age 64 without dependent children. Medicaid already covers children, most parents and the disabled.