Alaska’s legislature is suing the governor over his decision to expand Medicaid under ObamaCare.
The move marks an escalation of the fight over expansion of Medicaid, the government health insurance program for the poor. Alaska is the 30th and latest state to expand the program.
Gov. Bill Walker (I) announced in July that he would go around the legislature and expand Medicaid on his own after the Republican-controlled body blocked his efforts. At the time, Walker said he had the legal authority to do so, starting a process in which he gave the legislature a 45-day notice of his decision. The expansion is slated to begin Sept. 1.
But the legislature is now suing to block the move, calling it an unconstitutional violation of separation of powers.
“This is not a policy issue — we’re not discussing whether we should or shouldn’t expand Medicaid,” said Republican Senate President Kevin Meyer, according to the Alaska Dispatch News. “This is a question of authority and process and our constitution.”
Walker is standing firm, saying the legislature is “suing to take away health care coverage of working Alaskans,” the news outlet reports.
The case centers on whether it is optional to expand the program. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2012 that the federal government could not take away existing Medicaid dollars if a state did not expand the program, but the governor’s administration argues that ruling changed only the enforcement mechanism, not whether expansion is required.
"Just because there is no enforcement mechanism does not change the language of federal law or the language of state law," state Attorney General Craig Richards wrote in a letter to the legislature last month, according to The Associated Press.
A handful of other governors have expanded Medicaid without the legislature, including those in Kentucky and West Virginia.
The Obama administration is pushing more states to expand the program, emphasizing that it is willing to compromise to allow conservative twists on the program. Indiana, for example, expanded Medicaid this year with a requirement that beneficiaries pick up some of the cost by paying premiums.
“I’m going to work as hard as I can to convince more governors and state legislatures to take advantage of the law, put politics aside and expand Medicaid and cover their citizens,” President Obama said in June.