Doctors defeat Ohio campaign limits

Monday, August 6, 2012

COLUMBUS, Ohio — A state law restricting campaign contributions by physicians who treat Medicaid patients is an unconstitutional ban on free speech, a federal appeals court has ruled.

A provision in the 1978 state law bars the doctors from contributing to candidates for state attorney general or county prosecutor, the officials who prosecute Medicaid fraud.

The Aug. 3 ruling by the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati opens the door to thousands of doctors who treat Medicaid patients to begin making political contributions.

The court noted that in 2009 Ohio had about 93,000 doctors who provided treatment to Medicaid patients but it investigated just 316 reports of Medicaid fraud, prosecuting 97 people with 68 convictions.

“The statute here restricts the First Amendment rights of nearly 100,000 Medicaid providers who do not commit fraud, based on an attenuated concern about a relative handful of providers who do,” Judge Raymond Kethledge wrote in Lavin v. Husted.

Nine Cleveland-area doctors who filed the 2010 lawsuit had argued that the law unfairly assumed that Medicaid doctors are fraudsters who must not be allowed to contribute to candidates.

The doctors who brought the lawsuit supported President Barack Obama’s health-care overhaul and challenged the state law after they were told they could not contribute to state Attorney General Richard Cordray’s re-election campaign.

The doctors wanted to back Cordray, a Democrat, after he refused to join other states in a lawsuit to block the health-care law. Cordray lost the November election to his Republican opponent, Mike DeWine, who supported the challenge to the health-care overhaul.

The doctors will “never get their rights from 2010 back,” said their attorney Subodh Chandra. “At least they and other physicians can participate in political process just like rest of us.”

A spokeswoman for the Ohio Secretary of State’s Office said the office was reviewing the decision and had no further comment.

In 2010, then-Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner, a Democrat, said lifting the ban was not in the public’s interest, since Medicaid patients have their treatment paid for with public funds and accountability is key to that.

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