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Alaska lawmakers will consider -- or reconsider -- Medicaid lawsuit Monday

  • Author:
  • Updated: September 28, 2016
  • Published September 27, 2015

A House-Senate committee is scheduled to meet Monday to discuss how and whether to move forward with the Alaska Legislature's lawsuit to stop Gov. Bill Walker from unilaterally expanding the Medicaid health care program.

The administration of Walker, a Republican-turned-independent, expanded Medicaid enrollment under President Barack Obama's health care law on Sept. 1. That was after two separate courts denied the Legislature's requests for a temporary ban on expansion while lawmakers' underlying legal challenge was resolved.

Monday's meeting, at 10 a.m. in the Legislature's Anchorage offices, will be of the Legislative Council, the 14-member House-Senate housekeeping committee that voted in August to authorize the original lawsuit. Lawmakers last week signed contracts to pay two law firms up to $450,000 for work on the case.

The original committee vote authorizing the Legislature's lawsuit was 10 to 1, with all the members of the Republican-led House and Senate majorities in favor. But at least one Republican member of the Legislative Council, Anchorage Rep. Mike Hawker, says he hopes to steer his colleagues away from the lawsuit at Monday's meeting.

He plans to distribute new legislation he's developed which he says will "protect the state treasury" by automatically cutting off Medicaid expansion if it ends up saving less money than projected by the Walker administration, or if enrollment exceeds projections by more than 10 percent.

"This is called collaboration, not litigation," Hawker said in an interview Friday.

The committee's chair, Sen. Gary Stevens, R-Kodiak, says he's also opposed to the lawsuit -- though he was traveling outside the country when the original vote was taken.

He said Monday's meeting will include advice given to lawmakers by their attorneys in a closed-door "executive session," which is permitted under state law. The meeting could also include a public session if committee members want to take an official action, like dropping the lawsuit.

"It's a good time to stop and think, do we want to move ahead?" Stevens said in a phone interview. "I can't tell you whether a decision will be made or not."

If legislators don't drop their lawsuit, it would move forward in state Superior Court.

Sen. John Coghill, R-North Pole, one of the original proponents of the lawsuit, said he was open to hearing Hawker's arguments about setting aside the challenge. But, he added, he still felt the lawsuit was worth continuing, given his view that Walker had exceeded his executive authority -- a view, however, that's been preliminarily rejected by Superior Court Judge Frank Pfiffner.

"I think we're on solid ground," Coghill said. "The governor started something that now we've got to finish."

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