California Healthline Daily Edition

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

Dems, Officials Voice Support for Suits Challenging Medicaid Cuts

On Monday, Democratic congressional leaders and former federal health officials filed amicus briefs with the U.S. Supreme Court arguing that Medicaid beneficiaries should be able to file lawsuits against states that make cuts to the program, the New York Times reports (Pear, New York Times, 8/8).


In 2008 and 2009, the California Legislature passed laws that cut reimbursements to Medi-Cal, the state's Medicaid program.

Health care providers and Medi-Cal beneficiaries challenged the cuts in court, arguing that the payment cuts violated federal law that says Medicaid rates must be "sufficient to enlist enough providers" so beneficiaries can access care to the same extent as the general population in a particular area (California Healthline, 8/8).

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit said that beneficiaries could sue under the U.S. Constitution's supremacy clause, which lets federal law take precedence over state law (New York Times, 8/8).

California appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court (California Healthline, 8/8).

Details of the Briefs

Seven Democratic congressional leaders filed a friend-of-the-court brief supporting Medi-Cal beneficiaries. The move breaks from the Obama administration's position that favored protecting states.

In May, the U.S. Department of Justice sided with California, saying no federal law allows individuals to sue states to enforce the standard that Medicaid rates must be "sufficient to enlist enough providers." However, the Democrats argued that beneficiaries must be able to sue to enforce their right to care.

The lawmakers who filed the brief include:

  • Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.);
  • House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.);
  • Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.); and
  • Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.).

In addition, about one dozen former federal health officials recently filed a separate amicus brief supporting the beneficiaries. These officials include former HHS Secretary Donna Shalala and Bruce Vladeck, former head of CMS.

Next Up

The Supreme Court plans to hear oral arguments on a consolidated set of three cases on the issue in October.

A decision is expected by next spring (New York Times, 8/8).

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