HealthLawProf Blog

Editor: Katharine Van Tassel
Case Western Reserve University School of Law

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Medicaid Agonistes

Legal blogs have covered the Medicaid expansion in great detail. Now the law review scholarship is starting to emerge. Here’s one piece sure to make an impact: Nicole Huberfeld, Elizabeth Weeks Leonard, and Kevin Outterson on “Medicaid and Coercion in the Healthcare Cases.” From the abstract:

For the first time in its history, the Court held federal legislation based upon the spending power to be unconstitutionally coercive. Chief Justice Roberts’ plurality (joined for future voting purposes by the joint dissent) decided that the Medicaid expansion created by the ACA was a “new” program to which Congress could not attach the penalty of losing all Medicaid funding for refusing to participate. NFIB signals the Roberts Court’s interest in continuing the Federalism Revolution.

The Court relied on, seemingly modified, and strengthened at least two existing elements of the test for conditional spending articulated in South Dakota v. Dole. Clear notice and germaneness now appear to be folded into the newly fashioned yet undefined coercion doctrine, which relied on quantitative as well as qualitative analysis to determine that the Medicaid expansion was unconstitutionally coercive. The Court is now actively enforcing the Tenth Amendment to protect states from federal spending legislation. NFIB raises many questions regarding implementation of the Medicaid expansion as well as the ACA. The dockets will experience the reverberations of these open questions, as well as the Court’s invitation to explore the coercion doctrine.

For the near future, at least, the authors believe we are “plunged into Justice Cardozo’s ‘endless difficulties.’” For the long term, policymakers may want to take the advice of political science professor Andrea Louise Campbell:

[States are] ill suited to redistributive policy because they [have] an incentive to provide the lowest possible means-tested benefits in order to repel poor people and retain affluent taxpayers. The Great Recession also laid bare the devastating costs of the inability of nearly all states to run budget deficits and to engage in countercyclical spending during economic downturns. For many years, governors have urged the federal government to take on the portion of Medicaid that pays for nursing home stays for the disabled elderly.

Maybe now the time has come to federalize Medicaid altogether. Doing so would remove an enormous burden from state budgets and put an end to variations in state policy toward the poor that can have near-barbaric results. For example, in Texas, one of the states whose government plans to opt out, the working parents of Medicaid-eligible children can only get coverage for themselves if their income is below 26 percent of the federal poverty level. For a family of three, that’s $4,900 in annual income. Constitutionality is no barrier to federalization of Medicaid. The only question is whether it is politically feasible.

Huberfeld comes to a similar conclusion in another paper, arguing that “medicine generally and Medicaid specifically are already on the path to nationalization” and “Medicaid should be nationalized because federalism ideals are generally not served by the current structure.”


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