Court will hear oral arguments on Medicaid expansion

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The issue of Medicaid expansion will be back before a Superior Court in Anchorage Thursday morning. The Republican led Legislative Council sued last summer to stop Governor Bill Walker from unilaterally expanding Medicaid.

In late August, Judge Frank Pfiffner ruled against a preliminary injunction that would have blocked Medicaid expansion from starting on Sep. 1st. Now both sides will get a chance to make their full oral arguments in front of the judge. Senate Majority leader John Coghill, a Republican from North Pole, says the Governor didn’t give the legislature enough time to come to its own decision on Medicaid expansion.

“The Governor got too far ahead of implementing and so the consequence is we need to challenge the authority,” Coghill said.

The legislative council agreed to pay two law firms $450,000 to argue the Medicaid case. One of the firms is based in Washington D.C.

The case hinges on whether the Medicaid expansion population is an optional or required group under federal law. The Governor needs legislative approval to add an optional group to the program.

8,000 low income Alaskans have enrolled in Medicaid since expansion began Sep. 1st.

The legislative budget and audit committee hired a consulting firm in September to study Medicaid expansion and reform. That report was released last month. It calls Medicaid expansion a “highly attractive policy change financially,” because it is almost fully paid for with federal funds. Republican Mike Hawker, who chairs the committee, says the report also points out Medicaid expansion will cost the state $100 million over the next five years.

“We did not hire these people to make decisions for us or tell us what to do. We hired them to show us the pros and cons, show us the merits, the demerits, provide an external, competent and qualified analysis so that legislators could be making these value decisions,” Hawker said.

Hawker says he supports Medicaid expansion if Alaska can save money through implementing the program, something the state health department has committed to.

This story is part of a reporting partnership between APRN, NPR and Kaiser Health News.


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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