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House leader questions governor's Medicaid request

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — The Ohio House speaker said he has concerns about whether the governor's move to get Medicaid expansion funding through a legislative panel and bypass the full General Assembly violates the Ohio Constitution.

House Speaker William Batchelder told reporters Wednesday that he and more than 30 representatives have noted their concerns in a letter that will be part of the House's daily record.

"This is the most divisive issue that has come up in the country and in Ohio," said Batchelder, a Medina Republican. "There are obviously a number of us who had different theories about what ought to happen."

Medicaid expansion is one of the key components of Democratic President Barack Obama's federal health care law.

The federal government would pay the entire cost of the expansion for the first three years, gradually phasing down to 90 percent — still well above Ohio's current level of 64 percent.

Ohio recently got approval from the federal government to extend its Medicaid eligibility. But Republican Gov. John Kasich's administration needs legislative sign-off to spend federal dollars on the estimated 366,000 residents who will be newly eligible.

Kasich turned to the state Controlling Board for approval. The board handles certain adjustments to the state budget.

The Kasich administration has asked for the authority to spend $561.7 million in federal funds this budget year and almost $2 billion next year on expansion to cover the new Medicaid population.

The panel is scheduled to vote on the request on Monday.

Batchelder said board approval of the funds could spark a lawsuit. "There are a lot of questions inherent in this," he said.

Kasich has pushed for Medicaid expansion since February. But the GOP-controlled Legislature has balked at the idea and has tried to find common ground on other changes to the federal-state program that provides coverage to the poor and disabled.

Medicaid already covers one of every five Ohioans.

Batchelder said he hasn't decided whether he'll change his Republican lineup on the Controlling Board. The seven-member board has two GOP representatives, who are designated by the speaker.

The governor's decision on Medicaid expansion won praise Wednesday from Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, who was in Cincinnati for a panel discussion on the president's health care law.

"I am pleased that the governor is planning to move forward, and we'll hopefully see a successful vote on Monday," she said.

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Associated Press writer Lisa Cornell contributed to this report from Cincinnati.

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