- Associated Press - Saturday, May 2, 2015

PHOENIX (AP) - Patients who have received insurance coverage through Arizona’s Medicaid expansion will have a say in a lawsuit challenging the legality of the plan, an advocacy group said Saturday.

The Arizona Center for Law in the Public Interest, which represents low-income Arizona residents, applauded a judge’s decision to grant their clients’ request to help defend the expansion.

“We’re a long ways from this being over, but it’s good the people who actually get health care through AHCCS are actually going to have a voice here,” center executive director Tim Hogan said.

A Maricopa County Superior Court judge agreed that patients have a significant interest in the outcome of the litigation, according to a court filing made available Friday.

“Funding for their health care is at stake,” the court filing states. “They also share a common question of law with the existing parties - the constitutionality of the hospital assessment that funds their health care.”

Both the state and the conservative Goldwater Institute, which is representing the Republican-led Legislature in the lawsuit, opposed allowing patients to intervene. But Hogan and other advocacy groups argued that their clients should be allowed to have a say in court because Republican Gov. Doug Ducey has repeatedly said he opposes President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul law, which made the expansion possible.

A Ducey administration official is the named defendant in the lawsuit, and the state is represented by outside counsel. Ducey was dropped as a defendant earlier this year, leaving Tom Betlach, the state’s Medicaid director, as the main defendant.

Ducey has been coy on whether he wants the expansion to remain intact. Earlier this month, Ducey said he would allow Betlach, who heads the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment system, to defend the case.

Former Gov. Jan Brewer embraced the expansion, a major component of the federal Affordable Care Act, when she got the Legislature to approve it in 2013.

Arizona pays its share of expansion costs through a hospital fee. Republicans who control the Legislature argue that assessment is a tax that required a two-thirds vote, but it passed with only a bare majority. They sued shortly after the law was enacted.

Brewer fought the lawsuit and tried to get it thrown out on grounds that the lawmakers were just angry they lost a political battle. But the Arizona Supreme Court has allowed the case to proceed.

A judge will hear arguments in the case in July.

If the assessment is overturned, Arizona won’t have the matching funds to pay its share of the expansion that has extended coverage to more than 300,000 low-income people in the past 14 months. It also would lose excess federal cash to plug holes in current and future budgets.

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