Arizona Supreme Court accepts Medicaid case

Jeremy Duda//August 27, 2014

Arizona Supreme Court accepts Medicaid case

Jeremy Duda//August 27, 2014

The Arizona Supreme Court will have the final word on whether a group of Republican lawmakers have the right to sue over last year’s Medicaid expansion vote.

The high court on Tuesday granted Gov. Jan Brewer’s request for a review of a Court of Appeals that granted standing to 36 legislators. The lawmakers alleged that the vote violated a provision of the Arizona Constitution requiring a two-thirds vote in the Legislature to raise taxes.

Brewer, who got her Medicaid plan passed over strenuous opposition from conservative Republicans, praised the Supreme Court for agreeing to take the case.

A Maricopa County Superior Court initially sided with Brewer and ruled that the lawmakers lack standing, but that ruling was overturned by the appellate court.

“With the court’s decision, Arizona is one step closer to ending the baseless lawsuit, thereby allowing the state to focus exclusively on implementing one of the most critical and meaningful health care policies to be enacted in years,” Brewer said in a press statement. “I am hopeful the court will affirm the Superior Court ruling and reverse the appellate decision, siding with the majority of Arizonans and a bi-partisan legislative coalition.”

If the Supreme Court upholds the appellate court’s decision, both sides will still have to argue the actual merits of the case. But it would put one of Brewer’s crowning achievements in jeopardy.

Brewer’s expansion plan triggers billions of federal funds over the next several years by expanding eligibility for the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System to include anyone earning up to 133 percent of the federal poverty level. The state will pay for its share of the expansion with an assessment on hospitals.

The conservative lawmakers argue that the expansion is a tax, and therefore required a two-thirds vote in the Legislature. It passed with only a simple majority.

The Goldwater Institute, which represents the 36 lawmakers, expressed hope that the Arizona Supreme Court would agree with the Court of Appeals.

“This case is vital to upholding the integrity of the legislative process and keeping lawmakers in check when they want to skirt the rules to support their personal agenda,” Goldwater Institute attorney Christina Sandefur said in a press statement.

Brewer and her attorneys have argued that the only people who would have standing to sue over the Medicaid assessment are those who pay it, which in this case would be hospitals. Under the expansion plan, most hospitals in Arizona, and every hospital system in the state, gets back more in federal funding than it pays through the assessment, making a legal challenge from the hospitals unlikely.

The Goldwater Institute argued that the legislators have standing because the Legislature’s failure to abide by Proposition 108, the 1992 ballot measure requiring a two-thirds vote for tax increases, unconstitutionally overriding their votes, which would have been enough to stop the assessment if a supermajority had been required.

The Supreme Court has not yet scheduled oral arguments in the case. Both sides now have 20 days to file their briefs.