Legislative panel votes to spend $450K to stop Medicaid expansion in court

A legislative panel has voted to sue Gov. Bill Walker to stop Medicaid expansion. The Legislative Council made the announcement after a closed door meeting in Anchorage on Tuesday morning.

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The council voted to spend up to $450,000 on legal assistance to fight Medicaid expansion in court. Before the vote, Republican Senator Charlie Huggins made the case for the lawsuit:

“This is not the time for the Alaska State Legislature to be timid and it’s not about the issue, it’s about the separation of powers. So I firmly, firmly urge members of this body to support the motion.”

At a meeting in Anchorage on Tuesday morning, the Legislative Council voted to spend up to $450,000 on legal assistance to fight Medicaid expansion in court. (Annie Feidt/APRN)
At a meeting in Anchorage on Tuesday morning, the Legislative Council voted to spend up to $450,000 on legal assistance to fight Medicaid expansion in court. (Annie Feidt/APRN)

Last month, Gov. Walker announced he would expand Medicaid starting September 1. The Legislature failed to vote on his Medicaid expansion bill during this year’s regular or special session.

Only one lawmaker voted against the lawsuit, Democratic Representative Sam Kito of Juneau. He noted that several legal opinions supported Governor Walker’s decision to expand Medicaid on his own:

“And I am concerned about spending money in our current budget times to actually perform an action that could cost the state money.”

Medicaid expansion would offer federal health care to low income, childless adults. The federal government will pay 100 percent of the cost until 2017. After that, the state’s share of the cost of the program will gradually increase, but never amount to more than 10 percent.

At a press conference following the legislative council vote, Walker said he was disappointed in the legislature’s action:

“I stand firm on my decision. It was the right thing to do. I’m not wavering for a minute. Alaskans deserve nothing less. This has not pushed me in a different direction whatsoever.”

The legislative council is bringing in a Washington, D.C., law firm to challenge Medicaid expansion. Lawyers with Bancroft PLLC have argued against the Affordable Care Act in cases before the U.S. Supreme Court.

Senator John Coghill, a Republican from Fairbanks voted for the lawsuit. He says the lawyers will focus on getting a judge to issue an injunction stopping Medicaid expansion from going forward on September 1st. He says if an injunction isn’t granted, the lawsuit is unlikely to be effective:

“I think that we’ll push it, but by the time the process works we’ll probably be in a regular session, so at that point, the damage will probably already be done and then how to unravel it? Probably is not going to happen in the court system.”

About 40,000 Alaskans would qualify for Medicaid expansion. The Walker administration estimates about half that number would sign up in the first year.

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Annie Feidt is the Editor and Producer of Alaska News Nightly, and is also a frequent contributor to the show. Her reporting has taken her searching for polar bears on the Chukchi Sea ice, out to remote checkpoints on the Iditarod Trail, and up on the Eklutna Glacier with scientists studying its retreat. Her stories have been heard nationally on NPR and Marketplace. Annie’s career in radio journalism began in 1998 at Minnesota Public Radio, where she produced the regional edition of All Things Considered. She moved to Anchorage in 2004 with her husband, intending to stay in the 49thstate just a few years. She has no plans to leave anytime soon. afeidt (at) alaskapublic (dot) org  |  907.550.8443 | About Annie