The Department of Justice has filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the U.S. Supreme Court saying that federal law does not allow Medicaid beneficiaries or health care providers to sue states over cuts to Medicaid reimbursements, the New York Times reports.
In 2008 and 2009, the California Legislature passed laws that cut Medi-Cal reimbursements. Medi-Cal is California's Medicaid program.
Health care providers and Medi-Cal beneficiaries challenged the cuts in court, arguing that the payment cuts violated federal Medicaid law. According to federal law, Medicaid rates must be "sufficient to enlist enough providers" so that Medicaid beneficiaries can access care to the same extent as the general population in a particular area.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled that California's reimbursement cuts violated federal Medicaid law and compromised beneficiaries' access to "much-needed medical care."
California appealed the case to the U.S. Supreme Court, which is expected to hear oral arguments this fall and issue a decision by next spring.
Details of the Brief
In the amicus brief, DOJ said the federal Medicaid law promising equal access to care is "broad and nonspecific." The department said that federal health officials are better poised than judges to balance access to care with other policy objectives, such as regulating costs.
Neal Katyal, acting solicitor general, wrote in the brief that lawsuits by health care providers and Medicaid beneficiaries "would not be compatible" with Congress' view that the HHS secretary has the authority to ensure that states comply with federal Medicaid laws.
Opposing the Brief
Some lawmakers and consumer advocates have criticized the Obama administration for opposing lawsuits by Medicaid beneficiaries and health care providers.
Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) said that he and other Democratic lawmakers plan to file a brief opposing the administration's position (Pear, New York Times, 5/28).