Democratic Leaders Break With Obama Administration’s Legal Brief Undercutting Medicaid

Federal law requires state Medicaid programs to pay doctors enough money to ensure that Medicaid patients will have access to the same quality of care as everyone else. Last June, however, former Acting Solicitor General Neal Katyal filed an ill-considered amicus brief siding with parties that want to render this and many other essential protections for Medicaid recipients almost completely unenforceable. In response to this brief, Democratic leaders in Congress filed their own brief yesterday challenging the Obama Administration’s unfortunate position:

The Democratic leaders said Medicaid beneficiaries must be allowed to file suit to enforce their right to care — and to challenge Medicaid cuts being made by states around the country.

The Obama administration maintains that beneficiaries and health care providers cannot sue state officials to challenge cuts in Medicaid payment rates, even if such cuts compromise access to care for the poor.

In a friend-of-the-court brief, the lawmakers said the administration’s position “would undermine the effectiveness of Medicaid.” In addition, they said, it conflicts with more than a century of court precedents that allow people to sue to block state actions that are inconsistent with federal law.

In essence, DOJ’s brief claims that the Medicaid law cannot be enforced by lawsuits brought by individual Medicaid providers. Only the administration can require states to follow the law. This claim not only conflicts with well-established Supreme Court precedents. It also would eviscerate enforcement of Medicaid law because the administration neither has the resources to discover every violation of the statute nor sufficient resources to bring an enforcement action where ever one is needed.

Worse, when President Obama leaves office, he could be replaced by someone much more hostile to Medicaid. One presidential contender, Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) even floated the possibility of opting his state out of Medicaid entirely. If an anti-Medicaid president were to take up residence in the White House, much of the Medicaid law could effectively cease to exist until a more progressive president is elected.