By Marc Kovac
The state Controlling Board will take up an expansion of Medicaid eligibility at its meeting later this month, bypassing a vote of the entire Ohio House and Senate on the matter and leaving it in the hands of six lawmakers and Gov. John Kasich’s appointed panel president.
The official notice of the move is included on the Oct. 21 agenda, released Friday in advance of the Columbus Day holiday.
The announcement came a day after the federal government OK’d the state’s request to expand Medicaid to cover residents earning up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level.
Federal officials have said they will cover 100 percent of the costs of the expansion during the initial years, with support dropping to 90 percent by 2020.
“We think as of June 2015, we would have a net increase enroll- ment of 275,000 Ohioans,” said Greg Moody, director of the Governor’s Office of Health Transformation.
Kasich sought the Medicaid expansion in his biennial budget proposal earlier this year, but GOP lawmakers blocked the attempt, with some viewing it as an endorsement of President Barack Obama’s signature health care law and out-of-control federal spending.
Separate legislation to expand eligibility has stalled in the House and Senate. Earlier this week, Senate Republicans offered their own Medicaid reform package, with an eye toward controlling costs and improving health care for the needy.
Absent the passage of law changes by the general assembly, a group has started circulating petitions to force the issue before lawmakers and potentially onto the November 2014 ballot.
But the Kasich administration is moving forward with the Medicaid expansion, turning instead to the state Controlling Board for approval of authority to spend federal funds provided to the state for that purpose.
“We commend that administration for seeking to move this issue forward with the state plan amendment and move to the Controlling Board,” Jon Allison, a Columbus attorney serving as spokesman for Healthy Ohioans Work, the group behind the petition effort, said in a released statement. “We will be focused on getting the necessary legislative votes for Controlling Board approval.”
Controlling Board members sign off on contracts, spending authority and payments requested by state agencies.
The Medicaid request seeks an increase in spending authority of $562 million in the current fiscal year and $2 billion in the next. All the money would come from federal sources.
The board includes three members from each chamber, with four Republicans and two Democrats currently serving. Randy Cole, a Kasich appointee, heads the board and is a voting member.
The Medicaid item will require four affirmative votes.
The Republican leaders of the Ohio House and Senate, through their spokesmen, declined to comment Friday.
The decision to move Medicaid expansion via the Controlling Board drew praise from Statehouse Democrats.
“I encourage the members of the Controlling Board to ensure 275,000 Ohioans gain access to health care by approving Medicaid expansion,” said state Sen. Capri Cafaro of Liberty, D-32nd. “Expanding Medicaid will be a win-win for Ohio by providing health care coverage to more Ohioans while also lowering costs over the next decade.”
But the move drew jeers from conservative groups.
“Expanding Medicaid is the wrong policy decision for Ohio — one which provides poor health outcomes for participants, drives down workforce participation, and will cost Ohioans billions of dollars,” Robert Alt, president of the Buckeye Institute for Public Policy Solutions, a conservative think tank, said in a released statement. “To circumvent the Legislature to ram through this bad policy is what we have grown to expect from the dysfunction in Washington, but Ohioans expect and deserve better from their state officeholders.”
Tom Zawistowski, head of the Portage County Tea Party, added in a released statement, “We are disappointed that the governor has chosen to take this course of action. He is going against the wishes of his own state party, 75 percent of registered Republicans in Ohio who do not want it. Worst of all, it is a betrayal of the 66 percent of Ohioans who voted for the Ohio Health Care Amendment.”