Herron: Lawsuit a Path to Medicaid Expansion

by Ben Matheson on August 21, 2015

Rep. Bob Herron addresses the Alaska House of Representatives in 2014. Photo by Skip Gray/Gavel Alaska.

Rep. Bob Herron addresses the Alaska House of Representatives in 2014. Photo by Skip Gray/Gavel Alaska.

Alaska’s legislative council voted 10-to-1 this week to sue Governor Walker to halt Medicaid expansion. Among the votes for the lawsuit was Vice Chair, Bethel representative Bob Herron, who caucuses with the majority.

“I support Medicaid expansion and if I would have had an opportunity to vote on it on the house floor, I would have been one of those to say yes,” said Herron.

That floor vote never happened as legislators pushed for major reforms to the costly program. Then in July, the Governor made plans to accept federal money and move ahead. Legislators are now saying that the governor is violating the constitutional separation of powers and that they need to approve changes to Medicaid plans.

As leaders in the legislature have been very resistant to bring it to vote, Herron says bringing in an arbitrator may be the fastest course. He says the lawsuit to halt Medicaid expansion ultimately is a path to expansion.

“I think by having the courts decide if the Governor can do this, is a quicker way to get to Medicaid expansion, so that’s why I voted for us to go to the courts,” said Herron.

Herron expects to hear more next week from the court. If it rules in favor of the legislature and grants a restraining order, Herron expects an appeal from the Governor and then the Supreme court to rule. The process could then grind through another slow legislative session.

Walker wants to move ahead now as the federal government will pay 100 percent of costs through 2016. The state then has to pick up a portion of the tab, rising to 10-percent by 2020.

That’s been a central part of the disagreement between the legislative leaders and Walker that ultimate came to a lawsuit.

“Is this how democracy works? I think so. If we were all one big “kum-by-ya” how can we advance society if there isn’t disagreement. A good democracy is the art of compromise,” said Herron.

There are different interpretations of the state’s obligations under the Affordable Care Act’s new Medicaid policy. The Supreme Court ruled in 2012 that states would not lose funding if they chose not to expand, creating what some have argued is optional population to cover through Medicaid. State law requires new populations to be approved by the legislature, but the Alaska Attorney General has argued that expansion is required and doesn’t need the legislature.

Under the expansion, low income people making up to 138-percent of the national poverty level would be eligible for Medicaid. The Yukon Kuskokwim Health Corporation estimates that more than a thousand people in the region would be eligible.

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