Alaska Legislature Sues Governor over Medicaid Expansion

On Tuesday, the Legislative Council, which handles budget and business when the full legislature is not in session, voted 10-1 to file a lawsuit against Gov. Bill Walker over his unilateral executive action to expand Medicaid eligibility, according to the Alaska Dispatch News.

Gov. Walker, after unsuccessfully trying to get the legislature to approve his budget proposal to expand Medicaid eligibility during the 2015 session, followed the lead of governors in Kentucky and West Virginia and took action without the legislature’s approval.

The new Medicaid rules are to go into effect on September 1 and would made Alaska the 30th state to expand Medicaid as allowed under the Affordable Care Act.

The Legislative Council approved spending up to $450,000 for the lawsuit. They are seeking an injunction to stop the expansion from going into effect on Sept. 1.

Gov. Walker has estimated the state may have to spend up to $1 million to defend the eligibility expansion for approximately 40,000 low-income Alaskans.

“This is not a policy issue — we’re not discussing whether we should or shouldn’t expand Medicaid,” said Senate President Kevin Meyer, according to the Alaska Dispatch News. “This is a question of authority and process and our constitution.”

This is the way the Alaska Dispatch News reported the fine legal point at issue:

The Legislature is challenging Walker’s move based on a provision in Alaska statute that requires legislative approval before Medicaid coverage can be offered to people whose care is not required under federal law.

The [Supreme Court] ruling created ambiguity for Alaskan policymakers and legal experts: If Medicaid expansion is technically required under the ACA, but the Supreme Court has ruled the federal government can’t enforce the requirement by revoking money from states that don’t comply, does that make the newly eligible people under Walker’s proposed expansion an optional group that requires legislative approval?

Gov. Walker says the AG Richards already said no. The lawmakers who voted to sue say yes and are asking the courts to weigh in.