Ohio says board had authority to OK Medicaid money

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Attorneys for the state of Ohio denied allegations Tuesday that a legislative panel acted without authority in approving funding for an expansion of Medicaid.

Anti-abortion groups and six Republican lawmakers are suing the state over last month's move by the state Controlling Board.

They want the Ohio Supreme Court to order the board to void its own decision and stop the state's from extending Medicaid coverage.

In a court filing Tuesday, Ohio's attorneys claimed the plaintiffs lack standing in the case and said they have failed to demonstrate any need for relief, among other arguments.

At issue is whether the board thwarted the Legislature's intent when it cleared the way for $2.56 billion in federal funding to be spent on health coverage for roughly 366,000 newly eligible Medicaid enrollees.

Gov. John Kasich's administration brought the funding request to the panel in mid-October, bypassing the full General Assembly. The seven-member Controlling Board, which handles certain adjustments to the state budget, approved the expansion money on a 5-2 vote Oct. 21.

Under state law, the panel is to carry out the "legislative intent" of the General Assembly regarding program goals and levels of support for state agencies.

In the two-year state budget that lawmakers passed in June, majority Republicans inserted a provision that would have barred the Medicaid program from covering the additional low-income residents allowed under the new federal health care law.

Kasich, who's also a Republican, later vetoed the item.

The plaintiffs contend the board's move runs contrary to what was passed by the full Legislature.

In Tuesday's filing, state Solicitor Eric Murphy wrote that the state and the panel "specifically deny that the Controlling Board acted without authority," along with denying that the administration's decision to provide coverage is at issue in the case.

The governor has defended his administration's move.

"It's all within the rules," Kasich told reporters last week. "We're fine."

The state representatives in the lawsuit argue they were disenfranchised by a Controlling Board that acted contrary to their intentions. The Cleveland Right to Life and Right to Life of Greater Cincinnati Inc. joined them because they oppose the use of federal funding for expansion and wanted the chance to debate the issue with the Legislature, according to court documents.

On Tuesday, one of the plaintiffs in the case introduced a bill to place limits on the Controlling Board's spending authority.

"We believe the Controlling Board has usurped the constitutional power of the General Assembly to appropriate and spend the people's money," state Rep. Ron Young said in a statement.