By Ann Sanner
COLUMBUS: Two anti-abortion groups and six Republican lawmakers in Ohio sued the state Tuesday over a move by a legislative board to fund an expansion of the Medicaid health program.
Gov. John Kasich’s administration brought the funding request to the state’s Controlling Board, bypassing the full legislature.
The seven-member board, which handles certain adjustments to the state budget, cleared the way Monday for $2.56 billion in federal money to be spent on Medicaid health coverage for thousands of newly eligible residents beginning in January.
The federal-state health program for the poor and disabled already provides coverage to one of every five Ohioans.
The lawsuit filed Tuesday with the Ohio Supreme Court argues the Controlling Board thwarted the legislature’s intent by approving the spending.
“The Ohio Controlling Board’s expansion of Medicaid violates the clear limits on its own authority, and accordingly, also violates the clear limits of the Ohio Constitution,” the court filing states.
Under state law, the panel is to carry out the “legislative intent” of the General Assembly regarding program goals and levels of support for state agencies.
In the two-year state budget that lawmakers passed in June, majority Republicans inserted a provision that would have barred the Medicaid program from covering the additional low-income residents allowed under the new federal health-care law.
Kasich later vetoed the item.
Expansion supporters contend the ultimate legislative intent is what becomes law.
But the state representatives in the lawsuit argue they were disenfranchised by a Controlling Board that acted contrary to their intentions. The Cleveland Right to Life and Right to Life of Greater Cincinnati Inc. joined them because they oppose the use of federal funding for expansion and wanted the chance to debate the issue with the legislature, according to the filing.
The plaintiffs want the high court to declare the board’s decision as void and stop the Ohio Department of Medicaid from using the board’s spending authority to move forward with expansion, said Maurice Thompson, executive director of the 1851 Center for Constitutional Law, which prepared the lawsuit.
A Kasich spokesman said the administration would not comment on litigation.
Greg Moody, the director of the Governor’s Office of Health Transformation, on Monday said the administration carefully studied the request for spending authority. He told the Controlling Board that the administration believed it would prevail in a legal challenge.
Kasich, a Republican, has pushed for Medicaid expansion since February. The GOP-controlled legislature, in its opposition to the idea, has sought common ground on other Medicaid changes.
Wanting more people to be covered by January, Ohio sought and got approval from the federal government to extend Medicaid eligibility. The governor then turned to the quietly powerful Controlling Board, where he would need fewer votes for the plan.
Senate President Keith Faber, a Celina Republican, said in a Monday statement that the board’s action was not the end of the Medicaid discussion.
Both chambers are considering changes to the program to make it more sustainable.
Faber also said a bill will be introduced in his chamber to rein in the Controlling Board’s ability to make such “sweeping” budget adjustments.
The administration’s request only allows the state to spend the federal money on the 366,000 newly eligible Medicaid enrollees through June 30, 2015, the end of the current state budget. Then, additional legislative action would be needed to make sure future federal funds continue to cover the expanded population.
Several groups involved in an effort that could put Medicaid expansion on 2014 ballots say they plan to continue gathering signatures for the campaign because of the time-limited nature of the funding request.
That way, said Progress Ohio Executive Director Brian Rothenberg, “it’s not left up to a constant, back-and-forth battle with the legislature over ideology.”
The full petition committee for the Health Ohioans Work campaign has yet to decide on how to proceed with the ballot issue.