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Alaska Legislative Council's Medicaid Expansion Lawsuit Against State Dismissed



March 4, 2016
Friday PM

(SitNews) - Alaska Superior Court Judge Frank Pfiffner issued a ruling Tuesday in the case brought by the Alaska Legislative Council against Alaska Governor Bill Walker over his decision last year to expand Medicaid without legislative approval. Judge Pfiffner found that the Social Security Act requires Medicaid expansion, and that existing state law required Governor Walker to provide Medicaid to the group of Alaskans eligible for expansion. In his 26-page ruling, Judge Pfiffner granted the Governor’s motion for summary judgement and dismissed the case brought by the Alaska Legislative Council, which is made up of ten members of the Alaska Legislature.

In a prepared statement Governor Bill Walker (I) stated, “I am pleased the Superior Court agrees I have the authority to expand federally funded Medicaid coverage to thousands of Alaskans, which will generate more than $1 billion in just the first six years and save the state more than $100 million. Working Alaskans have been able to get health care coverage since September, thanks to the hard work of Commissioner Val Davidson and her Health and Social Services team. We will continue to work with the legislature on Medicaid redesign and reform efforts.”

Earlier in August 2015, Superior Court Judge Frank Pfiffner previously denied the Legislative Council’s motion for a preliminary injunction, saying they were unlikely to prevail on the merits of the case.

Senate Majority Leader John Coghill (R-North Pole), who sits on the Legislative Council and whose office drove the lawsuit, told KTUU Wednesday afternoon that the legislature will appeal the decision to the Alaska Supreme Court.

Senate Democratic Leader Berta Gardner said Senator John Coghill (R-North Pole) reported that $180,000 of the $450,000 previously approved by the Legislative Council to be spent on their side of the lawsuit will go toward the continued legal challenge.

Senator Gardner responded to Coghill's announcement to appeal saying two separate legal opinions have already affirmed the Governor’s right to enact this legislation. The court has now agreed with those opinions, and yet the lawsuit continues with the state paying the attorneys for both sides.

“It looks like someone thinks they’ve got money they haven’t spent yet,” said Senator Gardner.

“Alaskans have already been paying both sides of this frivolous lawsuit to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars. We are in the middle of an economic crisis, when vulnerable low-income seniors are being asked to do without. Now the Republicans of the Legislative Council are asking them to continue to foot the bill for the legal fight designed to take away their own healthcare? It’s ludicrous,” said Sen. Gardner. “I’m hoping someone will call the ‘House Majority Idea Line’ and point out an obvious way to save some money. The number is 844-414-5949.”

Alaska Senate Democrats had previously sent letters to the Legislative Council urging that the lawsuit be dismissed in full anticipation of the decision rendered this week.

In September of 2015, the Legislative Council authorized two law firms to spend up to $450,000 to pursue this ill-conceived case over the strong objections of House and Senate Democrats, and many Alaskans.

“Our own legislative attorneys predicted this, and the court agreed,” said Senator Bill Wielechowski (D-Anchorage), member of the Judiciary Committee. “It’s disappointing that the Majority in the legislature has now spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to come to the same exact conclusion that our own attorneys did months ago. We can’t change the past, but it is time to move on, accept the court’s decision, and acknowledge the benefits of Medicaid expansion which have been touted by the Majority’s own hired consultants, and the Department of Health and Social Services.”

According to the latest report from Alaska’s DHSS, Medicaid expansion has provided health care services to 10,416 Alaskans since September 1, 2015, and paid more than $34 million in claims, all federally funded.

“During these times of fiscal crisis, we simply do not have the money to waste on this issue, and my sincere wish is that the Majority will accept the court’s decision and not appeal this frivolous lawsuit.”

“Our coalition knew all along that expanding Medicaid in Alaska was legal, which is why it was a top priority for our members last year,” said Alaska Independent Democratic Coalition Leader Representative Chris Tuck (D-Anchorage). “We are thankful that the debate about the legality of expansion has finally been put to rest.”

Last year, during the First Session of the 29th Alaska Legislature, the Republican-led leadership in the House and Senate prevented consideration of Medicaid expansion by refusing to hold hearings, tabling amendments, and including unconstitutional restrictive language in the FY 2016 budgets. That resulted in a lack of legislative approval for Medicaid expansion despite widespread support for expansion among both Republican and Democratic members of the Alaska Legislature. In July of last year, Governor Walker decided to expand Medicaid. That decision prompted the lawsuit by the Alaska Legislative Council, which was dismissed today.

“I and my colleagues are thankful for today’s decision,” said Rep. Geran Tarr (D-Anchorage) who sits on the House Health and Social Services Committee. “Lawmakers should be working towards Medicaid reform and the hundreds of million in savings, not wasting money by suing the Governor for doing something he was obligated to do by the law.”

Quoting a news release from the Alaska Independent Democratic Coalition. Tuesday’s Superior Court ruling validates Governor Walker’s decision to accept federal funds to expand Medicaid and provide vital healthcare to an estimated 40,000 Alaskans. Expansion is projected to be a boost to the Alaska economy by creating up to 4,000 jobs and generating $1.2 billion in wages and salaries.

“I’m glad to hear the judge threw out this frivolous lawsuit,” said Health and Social Services Committee member Rep. Adam Wool (D-Fairbanks). “We have heard testimony that expansion is working as planned. It creates jobs and saves the state money while making health care available for thousands of Alaskans.”

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) increased the reach of the Medicaid program, effectively making health coverage available to people earning up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level.

The costs of Medicaid expansion are fully covered by the federal government this fiscal year. The federal match will slowly be scaled back to 90 percent by 2020.

“I am a strong believer in our court system and today’s ruling validated that belief,” said Rep. Andy Josephson (D-Anchorage), who authored legislation last year allowing the Walker Administration to accept the federal funds to expand Medicaid in Alaska. “By not properly considering Medicaid expansion legislation, the Majority leadership in the House and Senate left the Governor no choice but to use his executive power to help thousands of Alaskans get life-saving healthcare. That decision was the right one morally, and now we know it was the right one legally.”

In dismissing the case Superior Court Judge Frank Pfiffner wrote in his decision , "The court finds that the Social Security Act requires Medicaid expansion. The court reaches this conclusion based on the plain meaning of AS 47.07.020(a) and the canon of statutory interpretation that obligates courts to construe remedial statutes liberally. Because the Social Security Act requires expansion, state law makes the expansion group eligible for Medicaid services. Because existing law required the Governor to provide Medicaid to the expansion group, the Governor did not violate the Alaska Constitution by doing so."


On the Web

03/01/16 Decision and Order Alaska Legislative Council v. Governor Walker, et al.



Source of News:

Alaska Independent Democratic Coalition

Office of Senate Democratic Leader Berta Gardner

Office of Senator Bill Wielechowski (D-Anchorage)

Alaska Court Records


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