Ohio Medicaid Expansion Plan Challenged in Lawsuit

Ohio Governor John Kasich’s plan to expand Medicaid under President Barack Obama’s health-care overhaul, approved two days ago by a state legislative panel, was challenged in a lawsuit brought by a group of Ohio lawmakers.

Six Republican state representatives, joined by anti-abortion organizations based in Cleveland and Cincinnati, filed the complaint challenging the panel’s action yesterday at the state’s Supreme Court in Columbus.

The plaintiffs asked Ohio’s top court to void the Ohio Controlling Board action, arguing it exceeds that body’s lawful authority. Kasich, a first-term Republican, sought approval from the board after he was unable to persuade his party members who control the state legislature to agree to the plan.

“The governor is not king,” Maurice A. Thompson, the lead lawyer on the case, said in a telephone interview yesterday. The purpose of the lawsuit he said, is to “protect Ohio’s checks and balances.”

An entity separate from the state’s General Assembly, the Controlling Board considers agency spending requests. It voted 5-2 yesterday to take $2.56 billion in U.S. funds through fiscal 2015 to add 275,000 adults to Medicaid, the state-federal program for the poor.

The body consists of four Republican and two Democratic lawmakers, plus a chairman from the state budget office named by Kasich.

Income Levels

Under the Affordable Care Act, states can expand Medicaid to cover those earning about a third more than the federal poverty level, or $15,856 annually for an individual and $26,951 for a family of three this year, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, a Menlo Park, California-based nonprofit that studies health issues.

It said Ohio will be the 25th state, and the eighth with a Republican governor, to take that step. The U.S. government will pay all the added cost for the first three years and at least 90 percent after that.

Kasich said expansion will bring about $13 billion from the federal government over seven years. He also said the state has a moral duty to help people without health insurance, especially those with mental illnesses and drug addictions.

‘Don’t Understand’

“Why is that some people don’t get it?” Kasich asked during an Oct. 18 event at the Cleveland Clinic promoting the expansion. “Is it because they’re hard-hearted or cold-hearted? It’s probably because they don’t understand the problem because they have never walked in somebody’s shoes.”

Dan Tierney, a spokesman for Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine, didn’t immediately reply to an after-hours voice-mail message seeking comment on the lawsuit.

“The Ohio Constitution forbids the delegation of such major policy making authority to a small administrative board of legislators and executive branch officials where those policy outcomes diverge from the expressed intent of the Ohio General Assembly,” according to the complaint filed yesterday.

The board must act consistently with the state’s legislature, Thompson said. He is executive director of the Columbus-based 1851 Center for Constitutional Law, which is “dedicated to protecting the constitutional rights of Ohioans from governmental abuse,” according to its website.

The case is State, ex rel. Cleveland Right to Life Inc. v. State of Ohio Controlling Board, 13-1668, Ohio Supreme Court (Columbus).

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