Judge questions Alaska agency's finding of 'emergency' to cut Medicaid payments

Judge questions Alaska agency's finding of 'emergency' to cut Medicaid payments

A judge on Friday ruled that Alaska’s Department of Health and Social Services may have declared an emergency that was the basis for cuts to the state’s Medicaid program under false pretenses, according to the Anchorage Daily News.

In her ruling Friday, Superior Court Judge Jennifer Henderson said the lawsuit raised “at the very least, serious and substantial questions regarding DHSS’ finding of emergency” and added that the court was “inclined to grant a preliminary injunction as to emergency regulations, because those regulations lack a necessary precondition, namely, an actual emergency.”

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In a July lawsuit, the Alaska State Hospital and Nursing Home Association accused the department of unlawfully declaring an emergency to make the 7 percent cuts in Medicaid payments to health care providers.

The department’s commissioner, Adam Crum, who was appointed by Gov. Mike Dunleavy (R), issued a June finding of emergency allowing the department to skip straight to the cuts without the typical public input process for such changes, citing a 2020 budget that “significantly underfunded” the program.

Henderson added that given her likely conclusions, “the Court welcomes additional, responsive evidence and/or briefing on the issues of DHSS’ finding of emergency, the amount of any ordered bond, and any changes in the parties’ procedural request of the Court in handling these issues.”

She asked the department and the plaintiffs to each submit such evidence by Friday.

“The judge’s order is encouraging,” said Becky Hultberg, president of the Alaska State Hospital and Nursing Home Association, told the Daily News. “She seems to agree that the situation was not an emergency justifying the use of emergency regulations.”

"The court did not at this time issue an injunction so the rates adopted by regulation on July 1, 2019 are still currently in effect. The court stated that it would consider additional evidence and briefings on the nature of the emergency and on the bond ASHNHA would be required to post if the court issues the injunction," a spokesperson for DHSS said in a statement to The Hill. "The deadline for those submission is Friday, Sept. 6."