COLUMBUS, Ohio (WTVN) -- An expansion of Medicaid in Ohio could hinge on approval from a little known, but powerful state panel.
Gov. John Kasich's administration plans to ask the Controlling Board to allow the federal dollars to cover more low-income residents under the health care overhaul.
Kasich proposed Medicaid expansion in February. But the GOP-controlled legislature has balked at the idea. The U.S. government has promised to cover the entire cost of the expansion for the first three years and 90 percent for subsequent years.
Kasich's administration says Ohio has federal approval to expand the program. Now officials need legislative sign-off to spend the federal money on the newly eligible Medicaid enrollees.
"Ohio's Controlling Board has the authority to for a federal only appropriation. That's the request the Medicaid director made. It's the final step to us being able to extend coverage to about 275,000 uninsured Ohioans as of January 1," said Greg Moody, director of the Ohio Office of Health Transformation.
Kasich's administration wants the board to authorize the spending. The panel handles certain adjustments to the state budget. They meet on October 21.
“Only the General Assembly can authorize Medicaid to spend funds in this way, either through a bill or the Controlling Board. The Administration has been preparing to implement this change when the General Assembly gives its ok and we’ll be ready,” said Kasich spokesman Rob Nichols.
The board is made up of three members from both the House and Senate and a chairman that's appointed by the governor. Four of the six legislators are Republicans.
"I have grave concerns about the place, the time and the substance of this proposed Controlling Board action. Based on our solid track record of passing tough bills, I would expect a far superior and more creative solution by legislative enactment than what I fear may result from effectively crimping the legislative process," said Rep. Ron Amstutz (R-Wooster). He is one of the six legislative members on the Controlling Board.
One of the Democrats on the board, Sen. Tom Sawyer (D-Akron), is all for the move.
"This is a completely appropriate role for Controlling Board to play in the appropriation process. Now that we are on the verge of extending healthcare to 275,000 Ohioans, I look forward to casting a vote in Controlling Board to make Medicaid expansion happen," he said.
Tea Party leaders aren't happy with Gov. John Kasich's decision to get Medicaid expansion by going through the Controlling Board instead of the General Assembly.
"It basically says 'I can't win the debate. I can't persuade my own super-majority in the House and Senate to back me so I'm just going to jam this through.' The people of Ohio are sick of people jamming things through," said Tom Zawistowski with the Portage County Tea Party and We The People Convention.
Zawistowski says the move flies in the face of the more than 60 percent of Ohioans that voted in favor of the Healthcare Amendment. That amendment was aimed at blocking Ohioans from being forced to purchase health insurance.
The decision to go through the Controlling Board doesn't mean opponents won't still put up a fight. Zawistowski says they certainly aren't going to give up.
The biggest concern for Zawistowski is that Medicaid expansion is nothing more than welfare.
"This isn't Medicaid expansion. Medicaid is for elderly and single women with children and people with mental disabilities. They aren't expanding that. These are able-bodied people who make 138 percent of the poverty level," he said.