It wasn’t surprising that the Legislative Council voted to sue Gov. Bill Walker over his decision to expand Medicaid. Anyone who read the July 30 Anchorage Dispatch News opinion pages should have expected it.
Rep. John Coghill, R-North Pole, argued Walker likely violated state law. But despite his detailed legal analysis, this is just another salvo of “just say no” politics Republican legislative leaders have embraced ever since the Affordable Care Act was passed in 2010.
I’m not a lawyer, so I’m not going to pretend I understand Alaska laws related to accepting Medicaid funds from the federal government. The courts will decide that question. What a judge won’t rule on, however, is whether or not the lawsuit is politically motivated. Even if the Legislature prevails, that question should go before the court of public opinion.
This story begins in 2010 when former Gov. Sean Parnell joined a lawsuit with other states to challenge the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act. Medicaid expansion wasn’t the driver behind that decision. It was the individual mandate clause of the act that most believed was unconstitutional.
But the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the individual mandate in their July 2012 ruling. At the same time they determined states could choose not to implement Medicaid expansion. That’s the direction Parnell went, but first he dragged his feet by commissioning a study that took nine months to complete. Then he delayed releasing it another eight months.
At no time during that 17-month period did state lawmakers challenge Parnell over the issue. That’s not necessarily because he was exceeding his authority; their silence was a form of passive encouragement.
Fast forward to this past spring to a slight of hand by the legislative majority. House Speaker Mike Chenault, R-Nikiski, told the Alaska Dispatch News in March he believed Walker had that authority to expand the program unilaterally. So, lawmakers included provisions in the operating budget intending to prevent Walker from acting alone. They did that despite two separate legal opinions which said slipping those strings into the budget was likely unconstitutional. Obviously, they weren’t concerned then with abuse of authority or sticking to the constitutional rule of law.
The GOP leadership has repeatedly argued that reforming state management of the Medicaid system should come before making a final decision about expanding it. But as I’ve previously pointed out, the studies done under Parnell came up with just $37 million in savings. To paraphrase Rep. Wes Keller, R-Wasilla, that’s a “paltry” sum compared to the $3 billion general fund liability for Medicaid. And some of those, such as using artificial price controls and shifting costs from the Medicaid program to Social Security, aren’t real savings at all.
Then there’s the way the Republican leadership refused to bring Medicaid expansion up for a vote unless the majority of its caucus supported it. That’s because moderate members of the GOP who supported expansion would have joined the minority to pass it.
They argued the U.S. Supreme Court might effectively hollow out the entire Affordable Care Act if the court ruled in favor of the plaintiffs in the King v. Burwell case. In the words of Rep. Craig Johnson, R-Anchorage, it wouldn’t be prudent to expand Medicaid “and just have it undone.” The sad part of that story is how the GOP would have applauded such a ruling even though Alaskans who obtained private health care insurance on the federal exchange would have lost their tax subsidies.
One would think that after another disappointing ruling from the Supreme Court they’d give into what the majority of Alaskans want. But no, these penny-pinching politicians think it’s perfectly fine to waste money suing the governor.
It was Sen. President Kevin Meyer, R-Anchorage, who claimed their decision to go to court was “a question of authority and process and our constitution.” But that’s what he had to say. He couldn’t come right out and admit that the GOP’s track record on this issue shows it’s all about getting their way.
There’s a psychological disorder that fits the collective behavior of the GOP leadership. It’s called borderline personality. Simply put, their need to win at all costs has displaced their view of reality.