By Marc Kovac
The state Controlling Board signed off Monday on Gov. John Kasich’s plan to expand Medicaid eligibility, despite the promise of legal challenges that could be filed as soon as today.
The 5-2 vote provides state Medicaid officials with the authority they need to spend about $2.5 billion in federal funds to cover health-care services for Ohioans earning up to 138 percent of the federal poverty rate.
The federal government earlier this month signed off on the Kasich administration’s request for the expanded eligibility for an estimated 366,000 Ohioans.
Approval was expected, with speculation throughout the past week that Sen. Chris Widener, R-Springfield, would side with the administration and sign off on the Medicaid appropriation request.
One group intends to file suit in short order in an attempt to block the Controlling Board’s decision.
Maurice Thompson of The 1851 Center for Constitutional Law’s told reporters the legal challenge is forthcoming and will include involvement by GOP members of the Legislature, who will argue the board can’t issue a decision that runs contrary to the intent of the general assembly.
“That kind of decision can’t be made by these seven people sitting at this chair today ... in a very truncated hearing where really it should be done before the general assembly very deliberately with a number of witnesses and testimony,” Thompson said.
The final vote count was higher than it could have been after Republican House Speaker Bill Batchelder permanently removed Rep. Ron Amstutz, R-Wooster, and Rep. Cliff Rosenberger, R-Clarksville, from the board.
One of their two replacements, Rep. Ross McGregor R-Springfield, joined Widener, Rep. Chris Redfern, D-Catawba Island, Sen. Tom Sawyer, D-Akron, and Kasich appointee Randy Cole in affirming.
Without the board approval, the Medicaid program would run out of money at the end of the current fiscal year, which ends June 30, 2014, or early in the next, said John McCarthy, head of the state program.
“Gov. Kasich has already expanded those eligible for Medicaid,” Widener told reporters after the Controlling Board vote. “So the issue before the Controlling Board today was really about the financial stability of the Medicaid program in Ohio.”
The result brought cheers from Kasich and advocates, who have been vocal in their calls for action on the issue since the governor introduced it as part of his biennial budget earlier this year.
Democratic lawmakers, who pushed for a floor vote despite opposition from many Republican members of the Ohio House, also applauded the decision.
“It should not have been this hard and taken this long to do the right thing,” Sen. Capri Cafaro of Liberty, D-32nd, said in a released statement. “Fortunately, a majority on the state Controlling Board saw the wisdom in expanding health-care coverage in Ohio to end a frustrating legislative stalemate.”
State Rep. Bob Hagan of Youngstown, D-60th, added in a released statement, “I would have preferred if legislators were given the opportunity to vote on Medicaid expansion, but unfortunately, Republicans in the Legislature were more concerned about appeasing right-wing radicals than helping uninsured Ohioans, and we were given this temporary fix. Regardless, today’s actions by the Controlling Board pave the way for the working poor to have access to quality health care — an unequivocally positive development.”
Supporters say the expansion is needed to provide health care to more needy Ohioans, including working adults who don’t earn enough to pay for health insurance.
Opponents view the expansion as an endorsement of President Barack Obama’s signature health-care law and out-of-control federal spending and debt.