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Judge denies injunction; Medicaid expansion will happen next week

An Anchorage Superior Court judge ruled Friday afternoon that Medicaid expansion can go forward in Alaska as planned next week. Judge Frank Pfiffner denied the Legislative Council’s request for a temporary restraining order to stop the program.

Pfiffner spoke for more than 45 minutes in court, unpacking the complicated legal arguments each side presented to make its case. To win a restraining order to stop Medicaid expansion, the Legislative Council had to prove the legislature would face “irreparable harm” if the program went ahead on Sept. 1. In denying the council’s argument, Pfiffner made several points, including the fact that the state won’t spend any money expanding Medicaid.

“For this fiscal year, with acceptance of Medicaid expansion, nobody disputes that the federal government is picking up 100 percent of the tab,” Pfiffner said. “It doesn’t cost the state one single dime.”

In his preliminary decision, Pfiffner also concluded the Legislative Council failed to prove it was likely to win on the merits of the case if it were to move forward. The case centered on whether the Medicaid expansion population is mandatory or optional. If the expansion group is optional, that would require legislative approval.

Health Commissioner Valerie Davidson smiled with relief when the judge wrapped up his decision. She said many Alaskans have waited a long time for Medicaid expansion and she’s glad they don’t have to wait any longer:

“You know, it isn’t about us; it’s about Alaska and Alaskans who are going to get what they need,” Davidson said. “They deserve good health care coverage. We all do.”

A spokesperson for the Legislative Council said no lawmakers were available to respond to the ruling. The council hasn’t said yet whether it will appeal the decision to the Alaska Supreme Court.

The state will begin enrolling newly eligible Alaskans in the Medicaid program Tuesday.

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