Judge to make initial ruling on Alaska Legislature’s Medicaid lawsuit
On Friday, Alaskan will learn if Gov. Bill Walker’s Medicaid expansion will roll out as planned on Sep. 1. The State Legislature is suing his administration, saying it’s unconstitutional for him to expand Medicaid on his own.
The expansion would provide healthcare for up to 40,000 low-income Alaskans.
On Thursday, attorneys representing the Legislature asked a judge to put a hold on the expansion until the case is ruled on.
They argued the lawsuit isn’t about whether or not the expansion is good for Alaska, but that it’s an issue of power.
“The governor proposed adding the group, the Legislature considered that and declined doing so,” argued Erin Murphy for the Legislature via Skype. “That’s the way this is supposed to work. The governor is free to try to convince the Legislature to change it’s mind, but he doesn’t get to go it alone just because the Legislature didn’t agree with his preference to add an optional group.”
She also told the judge allowing the expansion to move forward next Tuesday, before the lawsuit is ruled on, would cause “irreparable harm.”
“It’s going to cause confusion on the part of those individuals and providers, it’s going to start creating reliance interests that might have to be unwound, and it’s going to be requiring time and money to be spent towards a program that we believe is going to be determined, ultimately, to be illegal and unconstitutional,” Murphy argued.
Attorney Dario Borghesan, representing Walker’s administration, argued against putting a hold on the expansion. He said the worst that could happen if it rolls out on Tuesday is that Alaskans who need healthcare will get it.
“We have stacks of testimony from people who can’t afford health care right now and don’t have access to health insurance, but are really suffering,” he said. “I talked about a woman who has 12 abscesses in her mouth that are causing her a brain infection, and she’s just keeping it at bay with antibiotics, but unless she gets Medicaid she’s not going to be able to get those teeth out. She’s not going to be able to make that infection go away. That’s a real harm.”
He argues the stakes are highest for low-income Alaskans who need this expansion now.
“On one hand, we have harms to real people who are going to suffer if they don’t get medical care,” Borghesan argued. “On the other hand, we have an abstract harm to legislators about the boundaries of their constitutional powers. There’s really no comparison. “
The judge said he knows any decision he makes will be appealed, and the case is “clearly” headed to the Supreme Court. He will announce his decision on whether or not to press pause on the expansion on Friday at noon.
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