Columbus -- Six Republican lawmakers and two anti-abortion groups filed suit against Gov. John Kasich's administration Oct. 22 for moving an expansion of Medicaid eligibility without a full vote of the state legislature.
The plaintiffs, including Reps. Andy Thompson (R-Marietta) and Matt Lynch (R-Chagrin Falls) and Right to Life groups in Cleveland and Cincinnati, want the Ohio Supreme Court to reverse a decision by the state Controlling Board that accommodated the expansion.
They say the Controlling Board overstepped its authority, with a decision that runs contrary to the intent of the general assembly.
"… This case is not about whether the controversial and highly contested expansion is wise public policy," the plaintiffs wrote. "Rather, the salient and critical legal issue before the court is whether the executive branch of government may effectuate such a major policy change administratively -- not only without a vote of the Ohio General Assembly but over the objections of the General Assembly, as expressed through its unambiguous acts."
Kasich is not named in the suit, but his Medicaid department and the Controlling Board, which is headed by his appointed president, are.
Rob Nichols, the governor's spokesman, said the administration does not comment on pending litigation.
The suit was filed by the 1851 Center for Constitutional Law, via attorney Maurice Thompson, a day after the Controlling Board gave state Medicaid officials authority to spend $2.5 billion in federal funding for health care for Ohioans earning up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level.
Kasich and advocacy groups have been pushing for an expansion of Medicaid eligibility for months, saying it was needed to provide health care to more than 275,000 additional needy Ohioans, including working adults who don't earn enough to pay for health insurance.
But opponents view the expansion as an endorsement of President Obama's signature health care law and out-of-control federal spending and debt.
Kasich moved ahead with the expansion, citing language in the biennial budget bill allowing it. The federal government signed off on the expansion request earlier this month, and the administration opted to place the issue before the Controlling Board rather than pushing it before the full House and Senate.
The seven-member panel gave its OK Oct. 21 on a 5-2 vote, prompting the lawsuit and criticism from conservative lawmakers and groups.
"The Ohio Constitution forbids the delegation of such major policy making authority to a small administrative board of legislators and executive branch officials where those policy outcomes diverge from the expressed intent of the Ohio General Assembly," the plaintiffs wrote. "Accordingly, the state of Ohio Controlling Board's administrative expansion of Medicaid spending fails statutory and constitutional scrutiny."
Sen. Chris Widener (R-Springfield), one of two Republican members of the Controlling Board who voted in favor of the expanded Medicaid appropriation, introduced legislation Oct. 22 to institute a permanent 4 percent income tax cut, to be instituted next year, pending lawmaker approval.
The proposed law change would return about $400 million to taxpayers, money that backers say will be saved as a result of the Medicaid expansion.
"I am pleased to propose legislation that would allow hardworking Ohioans to keep more of the money they earn, while also preserving a sound, balanced budget," Widener said in a released statement. "Allowing Ohioans to choose how to spend their money is sensible and the right thing to do."
Marc Kovac is the Dix Capital Bureau Chief. Email him at email@example.com or on Twitter at OhioCapitalBlog.