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Controlling Board Approves Medicaid Expansion

The State Controlling Board has approved expanding Medicaid to cover thousands more low-income Ohioans. GOP Governor John Kasich placed his expansion plan before the board after the Republican-controlled legislature failed to include the plan in the state budget. Tea Party-backed opponents of the plan say they will sue. Ohio Public Radio's Jo Ingles reports.

The Medicaid expansion advocates who packed into the Ohio Statehouse in an overflow room during the controlling board’s vote were jubilant.

Natural sound of vote and reaction.

Democrats were happy about the decision because they have been pushing for Medicaid expansion all along.  So was Governor Kasich who included it in his budget plan.  But Ohio lawmakers removed it so while this wasn’t his first choice method to pass Medicaid expansion, the use of the controlling board was employed as a pragmatic way to get it done.  Medicaid expansion advocates like Gail Channing Tennenbaum praised Kasich for his decision.

Channing Tennenbaum – “It was clear to the Governor and other people that if we were going to be able to enroll people in January, something had to happen and we weren’t going to get a piece of legislation with Medicaid expansion with it in time and so the Governor thrilled to go this route and we were thrilled with the bipartisan participation on the controlling board.”

One of the Republican lawmakers who voted for expansion was State Senator Chris Widener. Kasich administration officials have said several times that Medicaid expansion will save the state $404 million over two years because of decreased state payments to hospitals and for prisoner health care costs, among other things. And if that happens, Widener says that money could fund a tax cut.

Widener - “So those funds that remain unappropriated as a result of the administration’s making this move on Medicaid expansion, I intend to talk to my colleagues in the Senate and the House to return that to Ohio’s working families in the form of a 4% income tax cut this biennium.”

But Republicans like Representative Lou Terhar view the controlling board’s action differently.

Terhar – “The basis for this government is supposed to be that everybody gets to vote.  What just happened in there is that 90% of the people in Ohio just got disenfranchised because they didn’t get to vote.”

The head of the House Finance Committee, Ron Amstutz, also takes issue with the controlling board’s action.  In fact, he was removed at the last minute by House Speaker Bill Batchelder and replaced with a different Republican.  If he had been on the panel, he wanted to propose it take more time to consider the proposal.  He says many of his fellow Republicans in the legislature are not happy with what they see as an end run around their wishes.

Amstutz – The legislature will be more difficult to deal with now on a range of issues probably but we’ll see.

And one of those issues could be Medicaid reform. Greg Lawson with the Buckeye Institute, a conservative think tank, said there were a lot of problems with Medicaid expansion that were not addressed through this process.

Lawson – “I think people need to understand there’s a lot more here than meets the eye.”

Maurice Thompson, an outspoken critic of Medicaid expansion agrees.  And he says his group plans to file a lawsuit immediately.

Thompson – “The controlling board does not have the authority to act as a legislature.  That’s revised code 127.17.  If it did have that authority, it would be unconstitutional.  It would violate Ohio’s constitution, article 2, which requires general laws be made by the legislature.  That issue has been considered before by the Ohio Supreme Court and the courts consistently come out on our side.”

Advocates of Medicaid expansion expect a lawsuit over the issue.  Brian Rothenberg is with the coalition that’s gathering signatures to put Medicaid expansion on the ballot in November of 2014.  He says this possible lawsuit….and the way expansion was passed….gives his group more reason to gather signatures for the effort.

Rothenberg – “At this point and time, we are all continuing to move toward the ballot because, quite frankly, this is a temporary solution.”

And that means the fight over Medicaid expansion, which is far from over, will be heating up just about the time Ohio voters are set to elect or re-elect new leaders, including Governor Kasich.

Jim has been with WCBE since 1996. Before that he worked as a reporter at another Columbus radio station, and for three newspapers in Southwest Florida.
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