Medicaid Expansion Back in Court in Alaska

by | May 10, 2016

By Laurel Andrews

Alaska's House of Representatives has filed an appeal in state Supreme Court to halt Medicaid expansion by Gov. Bill Walker's administration.

The notice of appeal was filed Thursday afternoon in Anchorage.

"Given the magnitude of the issues our state is currently facing, we find this very disappointing," Walker wrote in an email.

The Legislative Council, on behalf of the full Legislature, sued Walker's administration in August to stop him from unilaterally expanding the health care program for low-income Alaskans. The case was dismissed in Superior Court in March.

Thursday's move bypasses a vote by the full House and Senate, which would have been necessary to continue the appeal by the Legislative Council.

According to a legal opinion by legislative legal services director Doug Gardner, either the House or Senate could hold a vote to pursue the appeal. In that case, the body would substitute itself as the plaintiff and pay for the litigation from the presiding officer's budget.

But the House has taken no such vote. House Majority Leader Charisse Millett said Friday she didn't know the appeal had been filed, though she was aware the deadline for advancing it to the Supreme Court was fast approaching. Final judgment against the Legislature in the Superior Court case was entered April 5.

"We've legally filed an appeal and that lawsuit is proceeding," said Jeremiah Campbell, deputy press secretary for the House Majority. Campbell said he also found out about the appeal "after the fact" and couldn't say who within the House had furthered the appeal. The appeal notice was signed by two of the Legislature's outside attorneys, Tim McKeever and Paul Clement.

Millet and Campbell directed questions to Rep. Craig Johnson, R-Anchorage, another member of the House Republican leadership. But calls and emails to Johnson and House Speaker Mike Chenault, R-Nikiski, were not returned Friday afternoon.

House Democrats said the appeal was wrong.

"The members of my coalition oppose this lawsuit and were never given the chance to vote on this matter," Minority Leader Chris Tuck said in a prepared statement. "Plain and simple, this is an abuse of power by the majority leadership in the House."

In the Senate, Majority Leader John Coghill, R-North Pole, said support for an appeal has been "diminishing."

"There's pragmatic things, like, we've got to get a budget out of here," Coghill said. The Senate was also "going to have to ask for more money. There was no real desire to do that," Coghill said.

The Legislature authorized $450,000 to argue the case, enough to get it to the Supreme Court, but not to take it "to the finish line," Coghill said. Additional money to argue the case could come from a few places, Coghill said, such as the speaker's office, or the House's operating budget.

Medicaid expansion took effect Aug. 31.

(c)2016 the Alaska Dispatch News (Anchorage, Alaska)