Pharmacies fight for right to challenge state Medicaid cuts

Four pharmacy groups are calling on the Supreme Court to give patients and healthcare providers such as hospitals the right to challenge states' Medicaid cuts.

The four trade associations filed an amicus brief in a California lawsuit challenging a 2008 cut of 10 percent to Medicaid rates for providers. The Supreme Court is expected to hear oral arguments in the fall and issue a ruling next spring.

"Pharmacists and pharmacies such as the members of the associations providing this amicus brief are on the front line of providing healthcare services to Medicaid beneficiaries," the brief argues. "It is in the public interest that those with the resources, the incentive, and who suffer an injury that is concrete, particular and redressable, such as providers, have a means by which they can seek to assure that states do not pass state laws which conflict with federal law intended to protect 'the most needy in the country.'"

Ironically, the case comes just as federal regulators must decide whether to approve California's request for another round of cuts. Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown has asked for permission to slash the state Medicaid program, known as Medi-Cal, by another $1.4 billion in order to help plug a $26.6 billion hole in the state budget.

The amicus brief argues that the providers have a right to sue because the state cuts run afoul of federal law requiring state Medicaid programs to pay rates that are "sufficient to enlist enough providers so that care and services are available under the plan at least to the extent that such care and services are available to the general population." At least 22 other states have signed onto an amicus on the other side of the issue, arguing that states need to be able to control their budgets without the threat of lawsuits.

The Obama administration, to advocates' dismay, has sided with the states. It argues that federal regulators — not patients and providers — are best equipped to determine whether state Medicaid programs are meeting the law's requirements.

The pharmacy groups signing onto the brief are the National Association of Chain Drug Stores, the National Community Pharmacists Association, the National Alliance of State Pharmacy Associations and the American Pharmacists Association.