FAIRBANKS—A Superior Court judge has denied the Legislature's attempt to block Medicaid expansion in Alaska, allowing Gov. Bill Walker to unilaterally expand the program Tuesday.
In a 45-minute oral decision to an Anchorage courtroom on Friday, Judge Frank Pfiffner said the Legislature's Washington, D.C.-based attorneys failed to make the case to put expansion on hold.
To have won an injunction against Walker, Pfiffner said the Legislature's legal team would have had to prove irreparable harm to the state and a likelihood that they would win their lawsuit.
Throughout the delivery of his motion, Pfiffner picked apart the Legislature's argument, calling the $450,000 lawsuit "long on argument but short on facts."
“The federal government is picking up 100 percent of the tab. It doesn’t cost the state one single dime, not one farthing, for administrative or otherwise for Medicaid expansion for fiscal year 2016,” he said. "There's no long-term irreparable harm."
The $1.5 million administrative cost for accepting federal money will be paid by the Alaska Mental Health Trust.
Pfiffner also said the Legislature's legal team failed to prove that its lawsuit was even likely to win.
"The counsel has made no clear showing of the probable success of the merits, and thus the second prong of the two-prong legal approach to granting a temporary restraining order or a preliminary injunction has not been met,” he said.
Pfiffner said his ruling was simply on whether or not to grant the injunction and that he will later rule on the legality of the issue. He said the Legislature could attempt to appeal his decision on the injunction.
“In the final, bottom-line analysis, unless some other court, meaning the Supreme Court, issues some ruling between now and Sept. 1, Medicaid expansion, as the governor has said it will happen, will indeed happen,” Pfiffner said. “That is the ruling of the court."
By accepting the federal money, the state anticipates some 40,000 Alaskans will become eligible for coverage. It expects about 20,000 people to sign up.
Walker utilized a rarely used part of state law that allows the governor to accept federal money without the Legislature's approval while lawmakers are not in session.
In a prepared statement released after the motion, Walker said he was pleased with the ruling and plans to move ahead with the expansion.
“Judge Pfiffner’s ruling today ensures 20,000 working Alaskans will have access to health care on Sept. 1," he said. "Medicaid expansion will not only save the state over $100 million in its first six years, it will save Alaskan lives. I look forward to working with members of the Legislature on implementing the Healthy Alaska Plan.”
Republican leaders in the Legislature also released statements about the loss in court, attempting to cast their lawsuit not so much as a way to hold up Medicaid expansion but as a way to ensure it's done properly.
“I’m disappointed with today’s ruling on the temporary restraining order,” said House Speaker Mike Chenault, R-Nikiski. “This motion was just one step in the process, and we continue to feel very strongly about our constitutional argument that was presented. We are by no means looking for a way to stop Medicaid expansion; we are trying to do it the right way so that we have a reliable, sustainable system.”
Contact staff writer Matt Buxton at 459-7544. Follow him on Twitter: @FDNMpolitics.