Judge denies injunction; Medicaid to roll out Sept. 1

An Anchorage Superior Court Judge ruled Friday afternoon that Medicaid expansion can go forward in Alaska as planned next week. Judge Frank Pfiffner denied the Legislative Council’s request for a temporary restraining order to stop the program. The council is appealing the decision to the state Supreme Court.

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Judge Pfiffner spoke for more than 45 minutes in court, unpacking the complicated legal arguments each side presented to make its case. To win a restraining order to stop Medicaid expansion, the Legislative Council had to prove the legislature would face “irreparable harm” if the program went ahead on September 1. In denying that argument, the judge made several points, including the fact that the state won’t spend any money expanding Medicaid.

“For this fiscal year, with acceptance of Medicaid expansion, nobody disputes that the federal government is picking up 100 percent of the tab,” Pfiffner says. “It doesn’t cost the state one single dime. Not one farthing.” (A farthing is equal to a quarter of an old British penny.)

In his preliminary decision, Judge Pfiffner also concluded the Legislative Council failed to prove it was likely to win on the merits of the case if it moves forward. The case centered on whether the Medicaid expansion population is mandatory or optional. If the expansion group is optional, that would require legislative approval.

Health Commissioner Valerie Davidson smiled with relief when the judge wrapped up his decision. She says many Alaskans have waited a long time for Medicaid expansion and she’s glad they don’t have to wait any longer:

“You know it isn’t about us, it’s about Alaska and Alaskans who are going to get what they need. They deserve good health care coverage. We all do.”

A spokesperson with the Legislative Council said no lawmakers were available to respond to the ruling.

The state will begin enrolling newly eligible Alaskans in the Medicaid program starting Tuesday.

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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