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Sides debate court timing in Medicaid dispute

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Attorneys for the state said Tuesday there's no need for the Ohio Supreme Court to rush its consideration of a lawsuit over a legislative panel's authority to approve Medicaid expansion, but they are not opposed to a "reasonably expedited" timeline.

Two anti-abortion groups and six Republican lawmakers are suing Ohio's Department of Medicaid and state Controlling Board after the legislative panel cleared the way for Gov. John Kasich's administration to spend $2.56 billion in federal dollars to cover more thousands more people in the Medicaid health program.

The sides are debating whether the case should move expeditiously.

In a court filing Tuesday, state Solicitor Eric Murphy said the plaintiffs don't properly justify their request to speed up the case in manner that's similar to election cases.

Instead, Murphy said, the plaintiffs offer "only rhetoric" in support of an expedited case.

The plaintiffs' lawyer, Maurice Thompson, argued in a filing last week that such speed is warranted because expanded Medicaid coverage takes effect on Jan. 1.

Without a ruling by then, Thompson wrote, "hundreds of thousands of Ohioans may reasonably rely upon, and be misled as to, their eligibility for Medicaid." He wrote the state would be bound to offer coverage that would ultimately be unfunded.

Murphy said the expanded coverage would only be "unfunded" if the plaintiffs prevail. Plus, he wrote, the state Medicaid director could always opt out of providing extended coverage should the viability of the Medicaid program become a problem.

"While no expedition is necessary to meet an artificial deadline of January 1, 2014, Respondents are not opposed to the Court adopting a reasonably expedited briefing schedule to resolve this case," Murphy wrote.

At issue in the lawsuit is whether the quietly powerful Controlling Board thwarted the intent of the Legislature when it cleared the way for federal funds to be spent on health coverage for the roughly 366,000 Ohioans who would be newly eligible for Medicaid under an eligibility expansion.

Kasich's administration brought the funding request to the panel, bypassing the full General Assembly. The seven-member panel, which handles certain adjustments to the state budget, approved it on Oct. 21.

Under state law, the panel is to carry out the "legislative intent" of the General Assembly regarding program goals and levels of support for state agencies.

In the two-year state budget that lawmakers passed in June, majority Republicans inserted a provision that would have barred the Medicaid program from covering the additional low-income residents allowed under the new federal health care law. Kasich, who's also a Republican, later vetoed the item.

The plaintiffs contend the board's move runs contrary to what was passed by the full Legislature.

Expansion supporters contend the ultimate legislative intent is what becomes the law.

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