Critics of Ohio Medicaid expansion: Void funds

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — An Ohio legislative panel exceeded its authority when it cleared the way for federal funds to be spent on an expansion of Medicaid, two anti-abortion groups and six Republican lawmakers claimed in a filing with the state's high court Friday.

The groups and state representatives are suing the state Controlling Board and Ohio's Department of Medicaid over last month's decision.

At issue is whether the quietly powerful Controlling Board thwarted the intent of the Legislature by allowing $2.56 billion in federal money to be spent on the extension of Medicaid. Roughly 366,000 Ohioans would be newly eligible for the health coverage beginning in January.

Gov. John Kasich's administration brought the funding request to the panel, bypassing the full General Assembly. The seven-member board, which handles certain adjustments to the state budget, approved the expansion money Oct. 21.

Kasich has defended the move, saying it was within the rules. And the state's attorneys contend the plaintiffs lack standing in the case and have failed to demonstrate any need for relief, among other arguments.

The anti-abortion groups and GOP lawmakers want the Ohio Supreme Court to order the panel to declare its decision as void and stop Medicaid officials from using the board's approval to move forward with the expansion.

"Such a ruling is necessary to prevent serious injury to the most fundamental checks and balances inherent in Ohio's system of government, and should be issued without delay," wrote the plaintiffs' attorney, Maurice Thompson, in a brief filed Friday evening.

Under state law, the Controlling Board 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 argue the board must act as a proxy to the Legislature.

"It certainly cannot act inconsistently with the General Assembly's intent," Thompson wrote. "And it most certainly is not an alternative route for policymaking when the General Assembly fails to provide the executive branch with the exact solution it seeks at the exact time it seeks it."

The state's attorneys have 10 days to respond to the filing.