Judge rejects call to block Walker from expanding Medicaid

  • By Becky Bohrer
  • Saturday, August 29, 2015 8:49pm
  • News

JUNEAU — A judge on Friday rejected a request by state lawmakers to temporarily block Gov. Bill Walker from expanding Medicaid in Alaska.

Superior Court Judge Frank Pfiffner denied the request by the Alaska Legislative Council to bar Walker from implementing Medicaid expansion until the merits of the council’s case challenging Walker’s authority to expand Medicaid on his own are decided.

That means that unless the Alaska Supreme Court is asked to intervene and determines otherwise, Walker can move ahead with his plans to expand Medicaid next week, Pfiffner said.

The Legislative Council filed a petition Friday seeking a review by the Alaska Supreme Court, said Stacey Stone, an attorney representing the council.

In a statement, House Speaker Mike Chenault, R-Nikiski, said the lawmakers who supported the lawsuit “continue to feel very strongly about our constitutional argument that was presented. We are by no means looking for a way to stop Medicaid expansion; we are trying to do it the right way so that we have a reliable, sustainable system.”

Walker announced plans to accept federal funds to expand Medicaid coverage to thousands of lower-income Alaskans after state legislators tabled his expansion legislation for further review earlier this year. Walker has proposed rolling out the expansion on Tuesday.

Pfiffner’s ruling “ensures 20,000 working Alaskans will have access to health care on September 1st,” Walker said in a statement. State-commissioned estimates released earlier this year indicate that nearly 42,000 Alaskans would be eligible for coverage under expanded Medicaid the first year and about 20,000 would enroll.

The council, comprised of House and Senate legislators, voted 10-1 last week to sue Walker over his plans.

The argument in the case centers on whether the expansion population is a mandatory group for coverage under Medicaid or an optional group. The federal health care law expanded eligibility for Medicaid, but the U.S. Supreme Court in 2012 said states could not be penalized for not participating in expanding the program.

The lawsuit contends the expansion population is an optional group that cannot be covered unless such coverage is approved by the Legislature. The state Department of Law, representing Walker, argues that U.S. Supreme Court decision did not strike down the provision expanding eligibility but instead struck down the penalty for states that do not comply with it.

Pfiffner said that, at least in his preliminary view, the expansion population meets the language for required coverage.

He said he expected the parties would submit more detailed briefings from which he could make a final decision later on the merits of the case.

Under expansion, Medicaid coverage would be extended to people between the ages of 19 and 64 who are not caring for dependent children, not disabled and not pregnant, and who earn up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level. The federal government is to pay 100 percent of health-care costs for newly eligible recipients through 2016, stepping down to 90 percent by 2020.

Some legislators have expressed concern with adding more people to a system they consider broken. Administration officials have acknowledged the current Medicaid program isn’t sustainable, but they see expansion as a way to get federal dollars to help finance reform efforts.

Attorneys for the council argued the state could face irreparable fiscal injury if expanded Medicaid takes effect next week. They also said it could create an administrative nightmare if expanded coverage begins and is later determined unlawful.

In a court filing opposing the temporary restraining order, Department of Law attorneys said nothing would change with the scheduled Tuesday rollout of expansion that would harm the Legislative Council.

“All that will happen on that date is that some additional Alaskans will get federally funded health care coverage,” they wrote. If the court later decides that expansion is unlawful, it can halt expansion then and the coverage will stop, they wrote.

“The only ‘harm’ that will have occurred in the interim is that some indigent Alaskans will have received federally funded health care that they would not have otherwise received,” they wrote.

More in News

Alaska Lt. Gov. Kevin Meyer speaks during a press conference announcing the administration’s push for changes to the state’s election system on Tuesday, Dec. 28, 2021, in Anchorage, Alaska. (Photo courtesy Kevin Goodman, State of Alaska)
Just 2 Alaska lieutenant governor candidates say 2020 presidential vote was fair

Alaska’s lieutenant governor will oversee the 2024 presidential election

Kenai Peninsula School District Superintendent Clayton Holland stand near the entrance to the district’s Soldotna offices on Thursday, March 17, 2022, in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Academics, staff recruitment among district priorities for upcoming school year

The superintendent is ready to see KPBSD return to the district’s pre-COVID-19 academic performance

Raymond Bradbury preserves his salmon while dipnetting in the mouth of the Kenai River on Saturday, July 10, 2021. (Camille Botello/Peninsula Clarion file)
Personal use harvest reports due Monday

Northern Kenai fishing report

Evelyn Cooley competes in the barrel race at the Kenai Peninsula Fair on Aug. 12, 2022, in Ninilchik, Alaska. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)
Music, magic, daredevils and pigs

Kenai Peninsula Fair brings an assortment of activities to Ninilchik

Signs direct voters at the Kenai No. 3 precinct on Tuesday, Oct. 5, 2021. (Camille Botello/Peninsula Clarion file)
Signs direct voters at the Kenai No. 3 precinct for Election Day on Tuesday, Oct. 5, 2021. (Camille Botello/Peninsula Clarion)
Local candidates report support from state PACs

Labor unions and the National Education Association are among the groups putting money into Kenai Peninsula state election races

Signs and examples on the recycling super sack at the Cook Inletkeeper Community Action Studio show which plastics are desired as part of the project in Soldotna, Alaska, on Aug. 11, 2022. Plastics from types 1, 2, 4 and 5 can be deposited.(Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)
Local nonprofit accepting plastics for synthetic lumber project

The super sack receptacles can be found on either side of Soldotna

This July 28, 2022, photo shows drag queen Dela Rosa performing in a mock election at Cafecito Bonito in Anchorage, Alaska, where people ranked the performances by drag performers. Several organizations are using different methods to teach Alaskans about ranked choice voting, which will be used in the upcoming special U.S. House election. (AP Photo/Mark Thiessen)
Groups get creative to help Alaska voters with ranked voting

Organizations have gotten creative in trying to help voters understand how to cast their ballot, as the mock election featuring drag performers shows

A school bus outside of Kenai Central High School advertises driver positions on Wednesday, Aug. 10, 2022, in Kenai, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Staff shortage, gas prices change school bus routes

The changes do not apply to the district’s special education students

The cast of “Tarzan” rides the Triumvirate Theatre float during the Independence Day parade in downtown Kenai, Alaska on Monday, July 4, 2022. (Camille Botello/Peninsula Clarion)
The show goes on as Triumvirate seeks funding for new theater

The troupe has staged shows and events and is looking to debut a documentary as it raise funds for new playhouse

Most Read