- The Washington Times - Monday, August 31, 2015

The Alaska Supreme Court rejected a request by state lawmakers’ Monday to thwart Gov. Bill Walker’s unilateral plan to extend Medicaid benefits to tens of thousands of previously ineligible state residents.

As a result, the Walker administration will begin Tuesday to sign up low-income residents as prescribed by Obamacare.

“The Alaska Supreme Court’s ruling today brings final assurance that thousands of working Alaskans will have access to health care tomorrow. Medicaid expansion will save the state more than $100 million in its first six years, and save Alaskan lives,” Mr. Walker said. “I look forward to working with legislators on Medicaid reform as we implement the Healthy Alaska Plan.”

The Affordable Care Act called on states to expand Medicaid to those making up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level, with the federal government paying the full tab for expansion through 2016 before scaling down its contribution to 90 percent in 2020 and beyond.

However, the Supreme Court in 2012 said states could choose not to expand their programs without forfeiting existing program funds.

Mr. Walker, a Republican-turned-independent, announced in mid-July that he would make an end run around the legislature and become the 30th state, plus D.C., to accept federal funds to expand the government health program.

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State lawmakers who had previously rejected expansion sued Mr. Walker and asked a Superior Court judge to issue a temporary restraining order so that the governor’s plan did not proceed until the courts heard them out on the merits of their suit.

Judge Frank Pfiffner denied that request Friday, resulting in the emergency appeal.

The lawmakers asked the state Supreme Court to “maintain the status quo” by thwarting enrollment into the Medicaid program under Mr. Walker’s plan.

“As a matter of both state statutory and state constitutional law, the legislature alone has the authority to decide whether additional optional groups shall be made eligible for coverage under Alaska’s Medicaid program,” their motion said.

With Monday night’s win, the Walker administration said the new enrollment standards will be loaded onto state and federal signup systems so that up to 40,000 newly eligible Alaskans can log on and get covered as of Tuesday. They can also apply in person or by mail.

The state Department of Health and Social Services said it started hiring 21 temporary staff members to process applications.

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• Tom Howell Jr. can be reached at thowell@washingtontimes.com.

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