Supreme Court Slams the Doors on Justice in Armstrong

Supreme Court Slams the Doors on Justice in Armstrong

WASHINGTON—Today, the National Health Law Program (NHeLP) released the following statement reacting to the ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court in Armstrong v. Exceptional Child. The Court ruled that the Supremacy Clause of the Constitution does not confer a private right of action for health care providers to sue for an injunction to enforce § 30(A) of the Medicaid Act, a provision that requires states to ensure Medicaid-participating providers are adequately paid.

“Today’s decision ignores hundreds of Supreme Court cases, dating from the early 1800s, which have recognized the ability of private parties to bring Supremacy Clause suits in federal court to stop state officials from implementing state laws that violate a federal law or the Constitution,” said Jane Perkins, NHeLP legal director. “The ruling immediately affects Medicaid providers, but it will be interesting to see whether this Court will find a way to limit the ruling to Medicaid and similar programs for low-income Americans, while continuing to allow banks, railroads, airlines and telecommunications companies to bring Supremacy Clause actions.”

In Armstrong, Medicaid providers sued Idaho to enjoin state policies (provider reimbursement rates) that they argued are inconsistent with the federal Medicaid statute. The Ninth Circuit affirmed a lower court ruling that the Supremacy Clause gave providers a private right of action to sue to enforce the federal Medicaid law. Today, the Supreme Court reversed the Ninth Circuit in a 5-4 decision. Justice Breyer voted with the majority and Justice Kennedy voted with the dissent.

“The Medicaid Act contains provisions that set forth protections and obligations,” said Elizabeth G. Taylor, NHeLP executive director. “The ability to enforce those provisions in court has been a critical hallmark. Today, the Supreme Court has shamefully interfered.”

NHeLP filed an extensive amicus brief, joined by 19 of the nation’s leading consumer organizations, defending the ability of health care providers to enforce Medicaid law when states do not comply.

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