(COLUMBUS, Ohio) - A little known, but powerful state panel will vote this afternoon on whether or not to accept federal funding to expand the Medicaid program in Ohio. Gov. John Kasich's proposal has raised opposition from many of his fellow Republicans, but his decision to take the issue before the State Controlling Board is leading to even more opposition.
"Controlling Board's expansion of Medicaid would be unlawful, if not unconstitutional," said Maurice Thompson with the 1851 Center for Constitutional Law.
That's because Ohio law dictates that the seven-member panel made up of a chairman appointed by the governor and six lawmakers not go against the "clear intent of the General Assembly."
Lawmakers stripped the proposed expansion from the Kasich budget and replaced it with a prohibition on expanding Medicaid. Kasich removed that with his line-item veto power, but Thompson says it shows that the General Assembly's intent was to not expand the program. He is threatening a lawsuit to be filed in the Ohio Supreme Court if the Controlling Board votes in favor of expansion.
"It's well within the authority of the administration to make the request and it's well within the authority of the Controlling Board to approve the request," said Greg Moody, director of the Governor's Office of Health Transformation.
Kasich has the support of the chairman and both Democrats that sit on the board, but he needs at least one Republican to back him as well. Three of the four, including Sen. Bill Coley, a Republican from Middletown, have indicated they will likely not be voting in favor.
"I would think that the governor would not offer this as a plan if he hadn't talked to some other member of the Controlling Board and felt that he had the four votes needed to get it across the finish line," he said.
Sen. Chris Widener, a Springfield Republican, is widely believed to be the swing vote. There are also suggestions that House Speaker Bill Batchelder, who isn't a supporter of expansion, could replace one of the two House Republicans on the panel that could vote in favor. Batchelder joined 39 House Republicans in signing a letter protesting Kasich's decision to use the Controlling Board to green light Medicaid expansion.
Tea Party leader Tom Zawistowski is no fan of the move either. He says the majority of Ohioans voiced their opposition when they voted for Issue 3 in 2011 which prohibits them from being forced to purchase health insurance. It was widely viewed as a referendum on the Affordable Care Act, also known as 'Obamacare.' He sees Kasich's need to go to Controlling Board as admission that Kasich can't get things done with members of his own party and has to jam them through.
"Ohioans are tired of having things jammed through," he said.
Kasich says while he's an opponent of President Obama's health care reforms, he backs this portion of it because this would use Ohio money sent to Washington, DC to help Ohioans. Medicaid expansion would add about 275,000 people to the program. Most are considered "working poor" meaning they have a job, but not health benefits. Others suffer from mental illness or drug addictions.
"The ability to get our dollars back from Washington to rehab these people and restore their lives has to be done," he said.
U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius says Ohio will lose out on about $26 billion over ten years if it doesn't approve Medicaid expansion. The federal government is willing to pay the full cost of expansion for three years and no less than 90 percent after that
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