Judge rejects call to block Walker from expanding Medicaid

A judge on Friday rejected a request by state lawmakers to temporarily block Gov. Bill Walker from expanding Medicaid in Alaska.

Superior Court Judge Frank Pfiffner denied the request by the Alaska Legislative Council to bar Walker from implementing Medicaid expansion until the merits of the council's case challenging Walker's authority to expand Medicaid on his own are decided.

That means that unless the Alaska Supreme Court intervenes and determines otherwise, Walker can move ahead with his plans to expand Medicaid next week, Pfiffner said.

During arguments on the matter Thursday in Anchorage, Pfiffner said he expected whichever side lost to appeal immediately to the Alaska Supreme Court.

Walker announced plans to accept federal funds to expand Medicaid coverage for thousands more lower-income Alaskans after state lawmakers tabled his expansion legislation for further review. Walker has proposed rolling out expansion in Alaska on Tuesday.

The council, comprised of House and Senate legislators, voted 10-1 last week to sue Walker over his plans.

The argument in the case centers on whether the expansion population is a mandatory group for coverage under Medicaid or an optional group. The federal health care law expanded eligibility for Medicaid, but the U.S. Supreme Court in 2012 said states could not be penalized for not participating in expanding the program.

The lawsuit contends the expansion population is an optional group that cannot be covered unless such coverage is approved by the Legislature.

Pfiffner said that, at least in his preliminary view, the expansion population meets the language for required coverage.

Under expansion, Medicaid coverage would be extended to people between the ages of 19 and 64 who are not caring for dependent children, not disabled and not pregnant, and who earn up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level.

Attorneys for the council argued the state could face irreparable fiscal injury if Walker's plan to expand Medicaid coverage in Alaska takes effect next week. They also said it could create an administrative nightmare if expanded Medicaid begins and is later determined unlawful.

In a court filing opposing the temporary restraining order, attorneys for the state Department of Law, representing Walker, said nothing would change with the scheduled Tuesday rollout of expansion that would harm the Legislative Council.

"All that will happen on that date is that some additional Alaskans will get federally funded health care coverage," they wrote. If the court later decides that expansion is unlawful, it can halt expansion then and the coverage will stop, they wrote.

"The only 'harm' that will have occurred in the interim is that some indigent Alaskans will have received federally funded health care that they would not have otherwise received," they wrote


08/28/2015 - 1:23pm