New York Times Examines Federal Court Limits on Lawsuits Filed by Medicaid Beneficiaries
The New York Times on Monday examined how a series of decisions by federal courts, with direction from the Supreme Court, have limited the ability of Medicaid beneficiaries to "enforce a provision of the law that says they should have the same access to health care as 'the general population.'" Under Section 1983, a law enacted in the 19th century, individuals can file suit against state officials "who violate rights secured by federal law or the federal Constitution," the Times reports.
However, in a 2002 Supreme Court decision, Chief Justice William Rehnquist wrote that individuals cannot enforce federal law through private lawsuits "unless Congress speaks with a clear voice and manifests an unambiguous intent to confer individual rights." The case has prompted lower courts to reconsider decisions in Medicaid lawsuits because "Congress did not explicitly create such rights" to health care access, according to the Times.
For example, in one Medicaid lawsuit, the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals this month ruled that plaintiffs must prove Congress sought to allow litigation to enforce Section 1983, not "merely a violation of federal law or the denial of a benefit." The federal court decisions "are raising questions about what it means to have health insurance, if the terms of such coverage cannot be enforced," the Times reports.
According to Lauren Saunders, an attorney at the National Senior Citizens Law Center, "the Supreme Court is looking for magic words -- 'rights-creating language' -- which Congress never knew it needed to use when these statutes were passed," adding that the court "made the test for finding a federal right so stringent that it has become extremely difficult to meet" (Pear, New York Times, 8/15).