By Jonathan Ingram, Nic Horton, and Josh Archambault — Mr. Ingram is Research Director, Mr. Archambault is a Senior Fellow, and Mr. Horton is Policy Impact Specialist, at the Foundation for Government Accountability.
Alaska Governor Bill Walker (I) announced in mid-July that he was moving forward with plans to unilaterally expand Obamacare in the state. As we’ve previously written here at Forbes, Walker’s expansion plan is not only bad policy, it’s also likely illegal. Now, a courageous group of Alaska lawmakers – led by Senate President Kevin Meyer and House Speaker Mike Chenault – are standing up to Gov. Walker’s attempted end-run around the legislature and hiring an all-star legal team to block Walker’s illegal actions.
Walker’s Unilateral Obamacare Expansion Violates Alaska Law
Alaska law clearly prohibits the governor from expanding Medicaid to any “additional groups … unless approved by the legislature.” This means that Gov. Walker could only expand Medicaid to a new class of able-bodied childless adults if this coverage group was already authorized by state law.The problem?
Alaska law only allows the governor to provide Medicaid coverage to two groups of people:
(1) individuals that the federal government requires Alaska to cover in order to participate in the Medicaid program; and
(2) individuals who belong to one of 15 specific optional eligibility groups.
Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion group fits neither class. Able-bodied childless adults are not among the 15 specific optional eligibility groups and, thanks to the U.S. Supreme Court, states are not required to expand Obamacare in order to keep participating in Medicaid.
That’s why Gov. Walker introduced legislation earlier this year to try to add a new optional Medicaid category for able-bodied childless adults. But when his legislation failed, Walker decided to ignore the legislature, violate the law and move forward with his Obamacare expansion anyway.
Lawmakers Vote To Sue Walker Over Expansion
Despite serious questions about his legal authority to unilaterally expand Medicaid, the governor has pushed ahead with his plan to bring Obamacare to Alaska. He has already begun the process of hiring more state workers to process applications and signaled that he will raid Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority funds to pay for the administrative costs of expansion.
But on August 18th, the Alaska Legislative Council voted 11-1 to sue Walker.
After the vote, House Majority Leader Charisse Millett explained that the lawsuit was necessary to “preserve the integrity of Alaska’s Constitution.” Senate President Kevin Meyer warned that not standing up to the governor on Obamacare expansion would “set a dangerous precedent where governors believe they can spend money and change the law without legislative approval.”
By standing up to Gov. Walker’s illegal expansion, Alaska lawmakers are defending the state constitution and protecting taxpayers and needy patients alike from this misguided Obamacare plan. And they’re bringing on board a top-notch legal team to do it.
Alaska Legislature Represented By All-Star Legal Team
In 2012, 26 states successfully argued to the U.S. Supreme Court that Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion was unconstitutional. The Court agreed and made the expansion optional, giving states a “genuine choice” of whether to expand Medicaid to a new class of able-bodied adults. Despite the promise of “free federal money,” 21 states – including Alaska – have turned down Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion offer.
The states were represented by Paul Clement, former Solicitor General under President George W. Bush, and rising legal star Erin Murphy, both partners at Bancroft PLLC. And that’s exactly who the Alaska Legislature has brought on board to assist with their legal challenge. Bancroft PLLC will join forces with Holmes Weedle and Barcott, an Anchorage-based firmed that has been retained as local counsel. Murphy from Bancroft PLLC was quoted in a recent press release:
The governor’s attempt to assert unilateral authority to opt-in to Medicaid expansion rests on a plain misreading of the Supreme Court’s 2012 decision in NFIB v. Sebelius, which expressly held that states have a genuine choice whether to accept the offer to participate in Medicaid expansion. The federal government itself has recognized that NFIB made participation in Medicaid expansion an option, not a requirement, as have the many states that have declined to participate since NFIB was decided.
Gov. Bill Walker and his lawyers plan to argue that Medicaid expansion is required by federal law. Who better to combat that false claim than the very same attorneys who successfully argued the issue before the U.S. Supreme Court in the first place?
Gov. Walker Should Walk Away From Obamacare Plan
Walker’s unilateral Medicaid expansion isn’t just bad policy, it’s also illegal. He now knows that lawmakers stand ready to block his actions. It’s time for Gov. Walker to give up his misguided attempt to circumvent the legislature in order to expand Obamacare in Alaska.
This article originally appeared at Forbes on August 25, 2015.