Ohio conservative lawmakers sue to stop Medicaid expansion

(Reuters) - Six Ohio Republican lawmakers have filed a lawsuit to challenge Governor John Kasich’s plan to expand Medicaid coverage for the poor under President Barack Obama’s healthcare reform law.

An Ohio legislative panel voted in favor of the expansion on Monday at Kasich’s request.

Kasich, a Republican, opposes the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, but wants the $2.5 billion in federal money for his state that a Medicaid provision of the law provides.

The governor used the legislative panel to bypass the state’s Republican-dominated legislature to expand Medicaid, a move that angered Ohio conservatives.

In a lawsuit filed late Tuesday, the six state representatives asked Ohio’s top court to stop the Medicaid expansion on the grounds that it does not have legislative approval, their lawyer said.

Some Republican opponents of Obamacare in other states have been rejecting Medicaid expansion.

“Our lawsuit stands for the simple proposition that neither this governor nor any other is a king,” said Maurice Thompson, the plaintiffs’ lawyer and executive director of the 1851 Center for Constitutional Law.

Ohio is joining 25 states and the District of Columbia in either moving forward with expanding Medicaid or requesting modifications to the plan. Medicaid expansion is a major plank in Obama’s health reform law, which aims to ensure that all Americans have access to affordable health insurance.

More than 8 million Americans are expected to receive health coverage under the Medicaid expansion in 2014.

Kasich endorsed the Medicaid expansion in February, but state lawmakers failed to act on it. Going through the Ohio Controlling Board, a special legislative panel composed of six legislators and one Kasich appointee, provided him with an alternate path.

The board approved the use of $2.5 billion in federal money, which the governor has said would cover the cost of expanding Medicaid to 275,000 additional low-income Ohio residents, starting in January through June 2015.

Kasich spokesman Rob Nichols said the governor’s office declines to comment on litigation. The expansion plan has the support of prominent medical and business groups, such as the Ohio Chamber of Commerce.

Reporting by Mary Wisniewski; Editing by Daniel Trotta and John Wallace