Ohio Controlling Board Hands Kasich Obamacare Win
Today the Ohio Controlling Board, a little-known panel of six legislators and one executive appointee, voted 5-2 to appropriate the Obamacare funds Ohio expects to receive through June 2015 as a result of expanding Medicaid pursuant to the federal health law’s guidelines.
Randy Cole, appointed by Republican Governor John Kasich, joined Rep. Chris Redfern (D-Catawba), Sen. Tom Sawyer (D-Akron), Rep. Ross McGregor (R-Springfield), and Sen. Chris Widener (R-Springfield) in voting to spend the Obamacare Medicaid expansion funding available from January 1, 2014 through the end of the biennium.
Sen. Bill Coley (R-Liberty Twp.) and Rep. Jeff McClain (R-Upper Sandusky) objected to the appropriation, which required a simple majority from the seven-member Controlling Board.
The vote was a victory for Gov. Kasich, who has spent the past eight months peddling leftist talking points — and outright falsehoods — in favor of taking billions per year in new Obamacare spending to turn Medicaid into a broader entitlement program.
One of the Kasich Administration’s frequent claims has been a warning that other states would get Ohio’s Medicaid expansion funding if Ohio rejected the Obamacare expansion. There is no truth to this transparent attempt to dull complaints from Ohioans who believed Gov. Kasich to be a fiscal hawk.
Greg Moody, Kasich’s health policy director, nonetheless repeated this claim today under questioning from Rep. Redfern. Moody insisted that Kasich expanded Medicaid so “Ohioans’ federal tax dollars” would not be spent elsewhere.
Sen. Widener and Sen. Sawyer lobbed softballs at Moody, Ohio Medicaid Director John McCarthy, and Ohio Department of Mental Health Director Tracy Plouck throughout the hearing, and the Kasich Administration officials responded with nearly all of the flimsy talking points they have used since February.
The Kasich Administration cited numerous tragic stories of needy veterans and drug addicts for whom the Obamacare Medicaid expansion is supposedly the only answer. Sen. Widener asked McCarthy what other options Gov. Kasich had for providing health insurance to the poor if the Controlling Board refused to appropriate Obamacare funds.
“There is nothing else for us to do at that point,” McCarthy replied, as if it was not the Kasich Administration’s choice to pursue billions in new deficit spending all year rather than develop state-based policies to serve the various constituencies Kasich has treated as props for Obamacare.
Redfern, who is also chairman of the Ohio Democratic Party, used the uncommonly high-profile Controlling Board meeting to grandstand about Gov. Kasich’s inadequate devotion to socialized medicine as evidenced by the governor’s refusal to create a state-run Obamacare exchange.
Though Sen. Widener, the board’s two Democrats, and Kasich Administration officials emphasized that Medicaid reforms will make the Medicaid expansion fiscally sustainable, the Controlling Board vote simply approved use of Obamacare funds. The Ohio Senate is currently reviewing Medicaid reform legislation independently.
Moody explained that no executive order was required for Ohio to enact the Obamacare Medicaid expansion, now that a state plan amendment submitted by McCarthy has been approved by the federal government.
“There are no guarantees to anything in life,” McCarthy said when pressed by Rep. Redfern to explain what happens if the federal government does not keep its funding promises.
McCarthy and Moody both assured the Controlling Board — whose members had clearly decided how to vote long before the meeting began at 1:30 this afternoon — that Ohio would drop eligibility if DC cut funding in the future.
Redfern made repeated references to a previous cut of Medicaid eligibility in 2003, when Moody was serving on the administration of Republican Governor Bob Taft.
“Together with the General Assembly we’ve improved both the quality of care from Medicaid and its value for taxpayers,” Kasich wrote in an announcement released after the vote. “Today’s action takes another positive step in this mutual effort.”
“I look forward to continuing our partnership with the General Assembly to build upon the progress we’ve already made to make Medicaid work better for Ohioans,” Gov. Kasich added.
In addition to the Controlling Board members who voted to appropriate Obamacare funding, Senate President Keith Faber (R-Celina) and House Speaker Bill Batchelder (R-Medina) contributed to Kasich’s policy win.
Faber and Batchelder have the ability to swap out their Controlling Board members at any time. Sen. Faber made no changes to the makeup of the board, though most assumed Sen. Widener would vote in Kasich’s favor.
In recent weeks Sen. Faber expressed concerns that the state’s Medicaid program would go bankrupt if the Controlling Board refused to appropriate the Obamacare funds, failing to note that any risk of bankruptcy would be caused by Gov. Kasich’s unilateral enactment of the Medicaid expansion.
Polling from Opportunity Ohio found that voters in Sen. Widener and Sen. Faber’s districts oppose appropriating Obamacare funds through the Controlling Board.
Last week, Speaker Batchelder signed a letter protesting Gov. Kasich’s decision to turn to the Controlling Board for the Obamacare appropriation of over $2 billion. Today, Batchelder removed Rep. Ron Amstutz (R-Wooster) and Rep. Cliff Rosenberger (R-Clarksville) from the board, facilitating the very action he protested just a few days ago.
The 1851 Center for Constitutional Law is expected to submit a legal challenge to the Controlling Board’s decision, as the board is required by state law to act consistent with the intent of the Ohio General Assembly. Earlier this year the General Assembly stripped Medicaid expansion from Kasich’s proposed budget and even added a budget provision forbidding the expansion.