Ohio Conservatives Thwart New Kasich Medicaid Maneuver

John Kasich
Ohio Governor John Kasich (R)

Conservatives in the Ohio House this week blocked a move widely viewed as an attempt by Governor John Kasich to set aside money he could later spend on Medicaid expansion without legislative approval.

The version of House Bill 483 (HB 483) passed by the Ohio Senate included a last-minute change to move as much as $300 million in surplus state revenue to the state Medicaid Reserve Fund.

Legislators feared this was an effort by the Kasich Administration to circumvent the General Assembly for spending on the Obamacare Medicaid expansion when an existing appropriation expires in mid-2015.

As a result, on June 4 the House held up HB 483 — one of several large “mid-biennium review” bills favored by Gov. Kasich — until the Senate approved an amendment to House Bill 486 dictating that “no money shall be appropriated or transferred from the Medicaid Reserve Fund” except to be returned to the General Revenue Fund or as approved “by another act of the General Assembly.”

Kasich, a Republican, unilaterally enacted the Obamacare Medicaid expansion last fall, making hundreds of thousands of able-bodied childless Ohio adults eligible for the entitlement program meant to serve children, low-income parents, and the physically handicapped.

Because legislators refused to support Kasich’s Obamacare expansion, the governor turned to the obscure Ohio Controlling Board to appropriate the program’s federal funding.

The seven-member board approved the Kasich Administration’s request after John McCarthy, Kasich’s Medicaid director, warned that refusing to appropriate $2.5 billion in Obamacare funding would bankrupt the Ohio Medicaid program.

Six House Republicans sued over the Ohio Department of Medicaid’s end-run around the Ohio General Assembly, but the Ohio Supreme Court ruled that prior House and Senate votes banning the Obamacare expansion did not prove the legislature opposed the Obamacare expansion.

Subsequent efforts to limit the powers of the Controlling Board, which is chaired by Kasich staffer Randy Cole and appropriates taxpayer money without hearing any opponent testimony, have stalled in the General Assembly. Interestingly, $300 million just happens to be the magic number that a Senate proposal would still allow the Controlling Board to spend.

Jim Siegel at The Columbus Dispatch casually marginalized “ultra-conservative” opponents of Medicaid expansion in a June 4 HB 483 story that has since been rewritten without acknowledgment — a common Dispatch practice.

“With the bitterness of a Medicaid expansion they opposed still fresh for some Republican lawmakers, concerns over how Gov. John Kasich could utilize a new $300 million Medicaid reserve fund forced GOP leaders to scramble yesterday to get enough House support to pass an off-year budget bill,” Siegel’s story now reads.

The Dispatch and Ohio’s other large newspapers, staunch supporters of the Obamacare expansion, frequently frame its critics as extremists in both news and opinion coverage.

The language that prompted concern from House conservatives follows. Strikethrough indicates text removed from the version of HB 483 initially approved by the House, and underline indicates new text added by the Senate.

Notwithstanding section 131.44 of the Revised Code, cash shall not be transferred to the Income Tax Reduction Fund prior to July 1, 2015 of the surplus revenue, as that term is defined in that section, that exists on June 30, 2014, after the transfer of cash to the Budget Stabilization Fund (Fund 7013) required under division (B)(1)(a) of section 131.44 of the Revised Code, up to $300,000,000 cash shall be transferred by the Director of Budget and Management from the General Revenue Fund to the Medicaid Reserve Fund (Fund 5Y80).