Decision to sue governor
The Alaska Legislative Council - 14 legislators who represent the other 46 legislators when the legislature not in session - voted to authorize $450,000 to pay an expensive DC law firm (plus some Anchorage attorneys) to file a court challenge of the governor's decision to expand medicaid coverage for Alaskans. (I posted the names of the Legislative Council members and the law firms here.)
I figure the state of Alaska will have to expend at least another $300,000 to defend the decision. (The Legislative Council leaders are the same folks calling for budget cuts because of the revenue drop.)
Public Opinion supports governor, not the legislators
The Legislative Council is doing this despite the fact that a March poll by Ivan Moore found that 65% of Alaskans favored medicaid expansion then.
|Chart from Ivan Moore|
Will the suit against the governor win in court?
In any case, these legislators are taking a pretty big risk of losing. But it's not their money. It's Alaskans' money, and, as I mentioned, 65% of Alaskans were with the governor on this decision. So they are spending this money in defiance of what is a pretty large majority in politics these days.
I'll bet they wouldn't take this action if this was their own money. Or even if they only had to reimburse the state if they lost. And those 65% of Alaskans (the number could be higher now) probably want them to lose because they feel we're better off squandering the $450,000 than NOT expanding Medicaid.
I looked at the section of the statute that they say the governor violated, the part that says the governor needs a vote of the legislature.
I'm not a lawyer and I don't know the larger context of the law, but I'm guessing the governor wouldn't make this move without feeling confident of his legal standing and an opinion from Legislative Legal Services for example, to Rep. Andy Josephson, concludes:
"For the above reasons, the governor likely has authority to accept additional federal funding to provide expanded Medicaid coverage. If insufficient state funds are available, he could also request supplemental state funding. A request for supplemental appropriations would be subject to legislative action."
The ADN has a link to AS 47.07.020 as the basis for the lawsuit. Here is a section from the statue in question:
"(d) Additional groups may not be added unless approved by the legislature."But that comes after (a) and (b) which state:
"(a) All residents of the state for whom the Social Security Act requires Medicaid coverage are eligible to receive medical assistance under 42 U.S.C. 1396 - 1396p (Title XIX, Social Security Act).
(b) In addition to the persons specified in (a) of this section, the following optional groups of persons for whom the state may claim federal financial participation are eligible for medical assistance:" [emphasis added]It goes on to list 15 'groups' of eligible Alaskans. I'm guessing that there aren't any additional groups not already listed in the 15. As I understand this, there aren't any additional groups, but the income level for eligibility for federal Medicaid is higher to include people who can't afford coverage, but I'm not sure. I contacted my representative, attorney Andy Josephson, because he requested the opinion above from the Legislative Legal Office. He's writing a piece for the ADN on this, so look for that for more detail. He wrote that besides the legislature's legal office, the attorney general's office also said the governor's move to expand medicaid was legal. Sam Kito, the only legislator on the Council to vote against suing the governor, also cites both opinions favoring the governor's action.
Josephson's piece will go into a bit more legal detail. He also talks about the mandatory/optional distinction. He starts his opinion piece with a quote from US Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts from the Sibelius decision on Medicaid expansion and Josephson concludes:
"Chief Justice Roberts’ quote . . . makes it plain and unmistakable: once a state opts to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, the expansion population becomes a mandatory group that enjoys coverage.My bet is the suit against the governor is going to lose.
An extra note on this:
Why are the legislators spending all this money to thwart the governor and public?
Why is this group (there's only fourteen because the Leg Council takes care of business when the full legislature is not in session) doing this? They tend not to answer questions like this publicly, but I'm guessing there are some pretty influential folks who want to keep Alaska (and other states) from doing anything that might make Obamacare more successful. And these folks seem to have influence over key people in the Legislative Council. I'm assuming Americans for Prosperity, the Koch funded group that set up an Alaska office last year, is somehow involved. Their website has this note:
But this is merely speculation. Rep. Chenault and Sen. Meyer (the leaders of the two Alaska legislative houses) offer us far more principled, but hard to believe, reasons. They tell us, for example, at the end of the linked opinion piece, they are doing this "for checks and balances." These are the folks who kept the minority voice pretty much silent and prevented legislation they opposed - including medicaid expansion - from getting to the floor when it stood a chance of getting a majority of votes. Pardon my skepticism, but this seems more like a protest that there now is a governor who checks and balances the legislature.