Alaska needs legislation, not lawsuits, on Medicaid

  • Monday, August 31, 2015 10:50pm
  • Opinion

On Tuesday, the Legislative Council, a special panel of the Alaska Legislature, voted 10-1 to spend $450,000 on a lawsuit against Gov. Bill Walker.

There are few words to express our disappointment. As the state cuts vital services like public safety and education to save money, Alaska’s lawmakers are imitating the snake that bites itself. The ultimate cost of this lawsuit is unknown. On Tuesday, Gov. Walker said he thinks it will cost $1 million or more. After all, this is a civil war — Alaska is on both sides. Thanks to cuts to the Department of Law, Walker expects the state will need to hire outside help to defend itself from itself. The state will be paying lawyers to fight other lawyers bought by the state.

Lawmakers on Tuesday took pains to explain that their lawsuit isn’t about Medicaid expansion — it’s about the way expansion was done. Their argument doesn’t hold water. The Alaska Attorney General, the Legislature’s own legal counsel and independent lawyers say Walker’s actions are legal under state and federal law. Walker acted because the Legislature failed to say yes or no. Because they failed to act, Walker felt he had to.

Since 2010, when the Affordable Care Act became law, and even since 2012, when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on Medicaid expansion, Alaska’s lawmakers have again and again refused to bring the matter to a floor vote.

Even this year, when a special session was called to specifically deal with Medicaid expansion, the Legislature refused to hold a single hearing on the issue.

Again and again, we’ve heard that Medicaid expansion deserves more study and investigation, yet when opportunities for that study and investigation come up, nothing happens. You might say that inaction is a type of action. That may be so, but to us it’s a sign of failure: It’s a sign that your convictions lack the strength to be shared publicly. Whether Medicaid should or shouldn’t be expanded, or whether Gov. Walker does or doesn’t have the authority to accept additional Medicaid funds, is irrelevant to our point. The two sides will now pay about $1 million to have a conversation that should have taken place, for free, at the Capitol months, or even years, ago.

The Alaska Legislature abrogated its responsibility to act — up or down — on Medicaid expansion, and suing when someone had the courage to act is petulant. Disagreeing with the decision is perfectly acceptable, but hiding behind procedural delays and lawsuits is not. “All I’m asking for is a vote,” Walker said Tuesday. We think Medicaid expansion deserves one.

— Juneau Empire

Aug. 20


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