COLUMBUS -- The state Controlling Board signed off Monday on Gov. John Kasich's plan to expand Medicaid eligibility, despite the promise of legal challenges that could be filed as soon as today.
The 5-2 vote provides state Medicaid officials with the authority they need to spend about $2.5 billion in federal funds to cover health care services for Ohioans earning up to 138 percent of the federal poverty rate. The federal government earlier this month signed off on the Kasich administration's request for the expanded eligibility for an estimated 366,000 Ohioans.
Approval was expected, with speculation throughout the past week that Sen. Chris Widener (R-Springfield) would side with the administration and sign off on the Medicaid appropriation request.
But the final vote count was higher than it could have been, after Republican House Speaker Bill Batchelder permanently removed Rep. Ron Amstutz (R-Wooster) and Rep. Cliff Rosenberger (R-Clarksville) from the Controlling Board. One of their two replacements, Rep. Ross McGregor (R-Springfield) joined Widener, Rep. Chris Redfern (D-Catawba Island), Sen. Tom Sawyer (D-Akron) and Kasich appointee Randy Cole in affirming.
Batchelder, who joined 39 Republican members of the Ohio House in signing a protest last week against the Controlling Board maneuver, said he decided to remove Amstutz and Rosenberger because the two are vying to become the next Speaker of the House.
Batchelder and Widener also attempted to distance lawmakers from the Medicaid expansion decision, saying Kasich already accomplished that task. And without the approval, the Medicaid program would run out of money at the end of the current fiscal year or early in the next, said John McCarthy, head of the state program.
The result brought cheers from Kasich and advocates, who have been vocal in their calls for action on the issue since the governor introduced it as part of his biennial budget earlier this year.
The Controlling Board action capped 10 months of Statehouse discussions and two hours of debate, with Kasich bypassing a vote of the full House and Senate in favor of the smaller lawmaker panel, which signs off on appropriations, contacts and other outlays.
One group intends to file suit in short order in an attempt to block the Controlling Board decision.
The 1851 Center for Constitutional Law's Maurice Thompson told reporters the legal challenge is forthcoming and will include involvement by GOP members of the legislature, who will argue that the Controlling Board can't issue a decision that runs contrary to the intent of the general assembly.
Marc Kovac is the Dix Capital Bureau Chief. Email him at email@example.com or on Twitter at OhioCapitalBlog.