The Obama Administration has told the Supreme Court that Medicaid turns beneficiaries into second-class citizens. The amicus brief filed by Acting Solicitor General Neal K. Katyal on May 26 effectively exempts everyone receiving Medicaid - including children, the elderly and people with disabilities - from the protection of federal law.
The Affordable Care Act has already been driving a double-digit boost to the privatization of Medicaid and Medicare, by spawning new contracts going out to bid across the country. Katyal's brief will allow corporate insurers, many already with reputations for criminal Medicaid fraud, to continue receiving federal and state funding with no federal controls over how, or even if, it is spent.
As official Administration policy, the brief also seems to grant these health insurers immunity from anyone appealing their decisions successfully ever again. It may also raise interesting questions about the content of meetings between the President and some of these same health insurance companies that took place prior to passage of the ACA.
Corporations are already reporting to the SEC with demonic glee the profits to be reaped by refusing to spend the money they get paid every month for state Medicaid and federal Medicare contracts. First quarter 2011 Medicaid/Medicare income to Wall Street-driven private insurers was about $30 billion, already well on the way to surpassing the 2010 total of $114 billion. Companies like UnitedHealth have reported federal revenue increases of over twenty percent just in the past six months.
Many of the companies gobbling up these new state and federal contracts are already developing unsavory reputations for criminal Medicaid fraud. Private insurers like Amerigroup, Unitedhealth, Wellcare and Humana have all either been charged with criminal fraud, or are fighting/have already reached repayment agreements to avoid criminal prosecution for stealing state Medicaid funds.
If this amicus brief is allowed to stand, civil rights earned over the past sixty years will be decimated. These companies are already creating a corporate criminal culture out of Medicaid and Medicare, which can only expand if they are allowed to violate federal laws with impunity.
This is what is already happening in states like Hawaii, where at least six different federal civil rights investigations have been initiated in the past fifteen months. The investigations have all been on behalf of medically fragile children and target one of two for-profit health insurance companies, Unitedhealth or Wellcare. Together, the two collect about seventy percent of the state's annual $1.75 billion Medicaid budget, in exchange for providing Medicaid services to the elderly, blind and children as well as adults with disabilities.
Florida's legislature recently voted to force its entire Medicaid population into managed care programs operated by for-profit insurers. Hawaii's former Republican governor Linda Lingle started that process locally, and recent announcements by state officials open the door for greater for-profit corporate intrusion into Medicaid and further violations of federal civil and legal rights.
Legislation is currently sitting on the desk of Hawaii Governor Neil Abercrombie that would exempt the state's entire Medicaid population from equal access to state appeals procedures. S.B. 1274 has been heavily lobbied for by the state's Medicaid insurers, who claim they are spending too much money defending their medical decisions in current state insurance division appeals.
These medical decisions they are defending are some of the same ones targeted by the federal civil rights investigations, two of which have been opened just in the past month. Two cases that were closed last summer both found in favor of the medically fragile children who filed the appeals.
More on the amicus brief itself
The New York Times reported on May 28 that Representative Henry A. Waxman of California called the brief “wrong on the law and bad policy.”
I am bitterly disappointed that President Obama would accept the position of the acting solicitor general to file a brief that is contrary to the decades-long practice of giving Medicaid beneficiaries and providers the ability to turn to the courts to enforce their rights under federal law,” Mr. Waxman said. He said that he and other Democratic lawmakers planned to file a brief opposing the administration’s view.
The amicus brief was apparently the opposite of that requested in a letter by twelve national organizations on March 21. The letter stated that "the federal government has an interest in assuring that ... federal laws are not undermined by conflicting state laws." The letter went on to say that the right of Medicaid beneficiaries and providers "to vindicate federal Medicaid requirements further[s] the federal government's interest in ensuring that the Medicaid program provides meaningful benefits to Medicaid recipients."
On June 3 by the National Senior Citizens Law Center released an evaluation of the brief, saying it "will eliminate what is often the only practical corrective mechanism for ensuring that federal Medicaid funds actually provide the treatments and services prescribed by Congress."
The Acting Solicitor General’s argument arbitrarily carves safety net laws out from the protections of the Constitution’s supremacy clause. The brief charts a path for the Supreme Court to permit federal courts to continue routinely apply federal supremacy to strike down state laws protecting consumers, workers, retirees, bank depositors and others, alleged by business litigants to conflict with federal laws. This result hardly fits the administration’s often-proclaimed goal of promoting courts responsive to the needs of ordinary people rather than powerful interests.
If you think this amicus brief is a bad idea, you can let President Obama know by going to the White House website and emailing a comment. Your message can be as simple as:
Dear President Obama:
Please do not allow Medicaid beneficiaries to be made into second-class US citizens. The amicus brief filed on May 26 by the office of the Solicitor General needs to be withdrawn.