Health Advocates, Govt Officials Surprised By Obama’s Efforts To Prevent Residents From Suing States Over Unfair Medicaid Cuts

As states across the country cut back on Medicaid spending — leaving many Americans with nowhere to go to get proper medical care — health care advocates in states like Washington, North Carolina, and Arizona are filing lawsuits to try to reverse the reductions. But the Obama administration is standing in the way.

On May 26, acting Solicitor General Neal Katyal filed an amicus brief in a Supreme Court case “arguing against Medicaid patients and providers suing California over changes to its Medicaid program.” As Lester Feder reports in the Politico, the move shocked many in the health care policy community, including Secretary of Health and Human Services Katheleen Sebelius, who had been working behind the scenes to head off the opinion:

Advocates for Medicaid beneficiaries say the case, Douglas v. Independent Living Center of Southern California, is important because it will be very difficult to enforce states’ obligations under Medicaid if the Supreme Court accepts Katyal’s argument. This could not only hurt beneficiaries who would have little recourse if Medicaid denies life-saving benefits, but it could also undermine the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, which relies on states to implement key components. The court will hear the case in the next term. […]

The ACA will add an estimated 16 million people to Medicaid rolls. If the court follows Katyal’s argument, Rosenbaum said, “It would be like having an insurance policy on paper and no real way to enforce the kind of assistance that real people in the real world are supposed to get.”

And, she added, there’s “no stopping point … in terms of its spillover effects” if the Supreme Court broadly restricts individuals’ access to the courts over state implementation of such a federal program.

The administration says that it is opposing the right of individuals to challenge state because that would create “unmitigated litigation clogging up the courts,” but such lawsuits are already restoring health care cuts to the neediest Americans.


Last week, the Washington Supreme Court court found that the state Department of Social and Health Services “made broad assumptions based on children’s age and living conditions instead of examining the need in each individual case” and unfairly cut benefits. The ruling will restore care to as many as 3,000 children who are served by the state’s children’s health care program. The court also affirmed a lower court decision that reversed cuts to 1,000 seniors receiving in-home care.