The state attorneys general who are suing over the Democrats' new health care law hope to make a big statement about Congress' power under the Constitution's commerce clause. But their case also involves a more bureaucratic question about the law's effect on Medicaid.
Lawyers battle over that question in a new round of briefs filed Tuesday. The mostly Republican group of attorneys general argues the new law transforms the Medicaid program, which is intended to provide health care to the needy, in a way that violates Congress’ spending power.
“The federal-state Medicaid partnership agreement did not afford plenary power to the federal government to make any Medicaid revision that it wished irrespective of the States’ expectations, or to bully the States with threats to remove them from the program for failing to accept transformative and harmful new conditions,” the group’s latest brief argues.
The U.S. Justice Department argues in its latest brief that Medicaid remains voluntary for states. The brief also says that, although Congress has wide latitude to remake the program, the new health care law “leaves [the] core Medicaid framework intact. Its key change — the expansion of eligibility to childless adults below 133 percent of the federal poverty level — is analytically indistinguishable from prior expansions.”
The dispute over Medicaid is important because it’s one of the issues the states are using to argue they have standing to bring their challenge. In fact, the Justice Department’s brief says nine of the 20 states have no standing to request summary judgment because they “submit no evidence of the allegedly coercive effect of the federal Medicaid grant at stake.”
Both sides in the case have asked Senior Judge Roger Vinson for summary judgment in their favor. Oral argument on their motions is set for Dec. 16.