Alaska Senate majority leader wants lawmakers to drop Medicaid suit

JUNEAU— Alaska Senate Majority Leader John Coghill said Monday he has recommended that lawmakers drop their lawsuit challenging Gov. Bill Walker's authority to expand Medicaid on his own.

Coghill, R-North Pole, said the issue has gotten wrapped up in the politics surrounding Medicaid expansion and adds to an already contentious situation as lawmakers try to reach agreements on the budget and other matters to end the extended legislative session. Coghill said he thinks pursuing the case is the right thing to do, but he also believes that support for doing so has dissipated.

Last summer, the Legislative Council, comprised of House and Senate lawmakers, sued Walker over his decision to expand Medicaid without legislative approval. Walker followed a process in state law by which a governor can accept more in federal funds for a budget item than authorized by the Legislature. A key argument in the case centered on whether the expansion population is a mandatory group for coverage under Medicaid or an optional group.

The lawsuit argued that the expansion population is an optional group that cannot be covered unless approved by the Legislature. But a state court judge in March upheld Walker's action, finding that the federal Social Security Act requires Medicaid expansion and dismissing the lawsuit. The deadline for deciding whether to appeal is approaching.

Coghill is among those who have seen the lawsuit as a separation-of-powers issue. Critics of the lawsuit, however, have seen it as counterproductive and a waste of money.

There have been differences in opinion, too, as to who should decide whether an appeal goes forward. The Legislature's top attorney, in a memo to the Legislative Council's chair, has said that once the Legislature is in session, the council's interim authority ends and a decision on whether to appeal requires a House and Senate vote. But some legislative leaders have said that the lawsuit was undertaken with the expectation it would go to the Alaska Supreme Court.

Coghill said late Monday afternoon that he had not had a chance to discuss next steps with House leaders yet.

Becky Bohrer, Associated Press

Becky Bohrer is a reporter for the Associated Press based in Juneau.