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Days before Medicaid Expansion Vote, Opponents Threaten Lawsuit

Friday, October 18, 2013 at 4:37 PM

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A showdown at the Statehouse is expected on Monday, when the governor asks for permission to spend billions in federal dollars to expand Medicaid. But Statehouse correspondent Karen Kasler reports, that may not be the final word on the issue.

With the critical vote that could expand Medicaid on the horizon for Monday, Gov. John Kasich took his final arguments for it to one of Ohio’s most prestigious medical facilities—the Cleveland Clinic.

“This is not like somebody else’s money,” he said. “It’s our money. Bringing Ohio money back to Ohio citizens to address our problems is just a fantastic idea. It’s just something that just makes so much sense.”

Kasich wants the six lawmakers and his appointee on the Controlling Board to approve spending $2.5 billion federal dollars to expand Medicaid to around 275,000 very low income adults.

His administration has said since the federal government will pay the costs of Medicaid expansion in full for three years, and 90 percent after that, Ohio could bring in $13 billion federal dollars over seven years.

Kasich is taking the request to the Controlling Board because the Republican-run legislature has indicated that Medicaid expansion isn’t something they’ll support.

House Speaker Bill Batchelder has among the most vocal in expressing his concerns, and Kasich called out to the Speaker by name in his remarks promoting Medicaid expansion as a way to help needy Ohioans, including military veterans.

“And I know Speaker Batchelder feels very strongly about this, about the need to help our veterans, and I do as well,” Kasich said. “This is critical for us.”

But two-thirds of the 60-member House supermajority disagree, and signed on to a letter asking Kasich to reconsider Medicaid expansion, saying the maneuver to put it before the Controlling Board may violate Ohio’s constitution. 

Supporters of expansion have noted that other requests to spend federal money have gone through the Controlling Board with no problem.

But the conservative think tank the Buckeye Institute says this isn’t a comparable situation. Greg Lawson points to lines in the budget that passed the legislature that forbid the governor from expanding Medicaid—Kasich struck those words with his line-item veto power.

“I don’t know of anything where the legislature has previously voted explicitly to prohibit an action, a governor subsequently would veto it, and then seek to appropriate funds based upon the language that they had vetoed,” Lawson said. “That is different.”

Lawson says the move will invite litigation.

And that certainly seems to be the plan by the Tea Party-backed 1851 Center for Constitutional Law. Maurice Thompson says there is a very strong legal argument against the authority of the Controlling Board to implement major public policy that the General Assembly has not only refused but actually prohibited.

“We never promise lawsuits—we never talk about what we’re going to do,” Thompson said. “We just do it and talk about it afterwards as a matter of internal policy. But we’re going to be prepared to go ahead if the Controlling Board goes ahead.”

The two Democrats and Kasich’s appointee on the Controlling Board are expected to vote for expansion, with the two House Republicans voting no. The Senate Republicans are predicted to split their votes, with the lone Republican yes vote coming from Sen. Chris Widener of Springfield.

And it seems likely that the makeup of the Controlling Board will not change before the key vote on Monday. A spokesman for Speaker Batchelder says there’s no news to report. But a spokesman for Republican Senate President Keith Faber is much more firm. He says, “We will not be making any changes to the Controlling Board.”

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Government/Politics, Health

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