WASHINGTON — States can choose whether to expand their Medicaid programs because of the legal fight waged by some state attorneys general against the federal health care law, Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt said here Monday.
“Across the country right now, the decision that governors are making on whether to expand Medicaid — that decision didn't even exist prior to attorneys general bringing this particular litigation,” Pruitt said during an online news conference with two other Republican attorneys general.
“And so that was a clear benefit where our states were able to participate in cooperative federalism to make a decision about whether Medicaid should be expanded.”
Pruitt, chairman of the Republican Attorneys General Association, and some of his GOP colleagues have been challenging the authority of the president — and Congress in some instances — to exert power in areas that the attorneys general say are reserved for the states.
Pruitt has joined 10 other attorneys general in a lawsuit over some provisions of the Dodd-Frank financial reform act; some attorneys general also have been fighting the administration in court over voting laws, and Pruitt is engaged in a case against the Environmental Protection Agency over the application of air pollution rules in Oklahoma.
Georgia Attorney General Sam Olens said Monday that Republican and Democratic administrations had been guilty of violating states' rights.
“We're now taking a stand,” Olens said. “And we're now saying it's not going to happen anymore, whether the president is Republican or Democrat. The constitution is going to be followed.”
Attorneys general are in Washington for a conference, and they heard Monday from one of U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder's top deputies.
Acting Associate Attorney General Tony West touted cooperation between his department and state attorneys general on issues such as financial fraud and homeland security and said the relationship had never been more productive or important.
“Often we're all dealing with the same problems,” West said. “And we're serving the same public — a public that is more interested in our finding practical and effective solutions than they are about whatever boundaries may exist between state and federal jurisdiction.”
Health care case
The U.S. Supreme Court last year ruled unconstitutional the portion of the health care law that required states to expand their Medicaid programs to include more low-income people. The high court's ruling made Medicaid expansion optional, and several states, including Oklahoma, have rejected the expansion.
Pruitt said he is still challenging the health care law in federal court in eastern Oklahoma. That case could be pivotal in states like Oklahoma, which have decided against setting up their own health insurance marketplaces, known as exchanges, Pruitt said.
The case, which could be decided this year, Pruitt said, centers on whether the health care law's employer mandate to provide affordable insurance allows for employers to be taxed in states that don't set up their own exchanges.