There could be some courtroom drama next week in Gov. Rick Scott’s lawsuit against the federal government over the fate of $2 billion in supplemental Medicaid money known as Low Income Pool.
It was expected that oral arguments would be held on June 19 in the fast-moving lawsuit. But Chief Judge M. Casey Rodgers, in an order issued on Wednesday, said she would hold an evidentiary hearing on the governor’s motion for a preliminary injunction that, if approved, could force the federal government to continue Low Income Pool funding at the current $2 billion-plus level.
An evidentiary hearing means that both the state and federal government will have to present witness testimony in court. This could mean heavy hitters like Scott and Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell could be required to appear in federal court.
Scott met with Burwell May 6 to discuss the Low Income Pool program.
The change on the docket came in an order Rodgers issued denying Scott’s recent motion to compel the federal government to enter mediation with the state. Rodgers ruled that court-ordered mediation as Scott’s attorneys sought does not guarantee a resolution and that it would not “advance the process any faster than the expedited proceeding currently scheduled.”
But Rodgers is moving ahead with another of Scott’s requests.
Acknowledging the short time frame before the end of the state fiscal year and the “voluminous materials” submitted for the upcoming oral arguments, the judge said in the ruling he’d use the June 19 date to consider Florida’s request for a preliminary injunction and told the parties to be prepared to bring witness testimony to court.
“The court needs to have a thorough understanding of the LIP extension or amendment process and the history of the negotiations between the parties in order to resolve the questions raised. It is also important that the court be able to timely resolve any evidentiary conflicts or credibility questions that may arise during the hearing,” wrote the judge.
Until then, Judge Rodgers told the parties that they are “encouraged to continue their negotiations and to promptly notify the court if a resolution is reached prior to the hearing.”
Scott is slated to leave the country this weekend for the 2015 Paris Air Show. The governor told reporters in Tampa on Tuesday that the legislative special session had altered his plans and that he would shorten his trip and leave the country on Friday, June 19, and return Monday, June 22.
“I will be going to the air show in Paris. I’ll go Friday night and I’ll come back Monday, so I’ve shortened my trip, It’s an important trip,” Scott told Tampa Tribune reporter Jerome Stockfish.
The governor’s press office later told the paper that the trip would be a “game-time decision.”
Scott spokesperson Jackie Schutz did not return emails asking whether Scott would appear at the courthouse in Pensacola. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services spokesperson Benjamin Wakana referred questions on the suit to the U.S. Department of Justice.
Scott has been wrangling with the federal government over Low Income Pool since the spring. After receiving a letter from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services advising “the future of the (low-income pool), sufficient provider rates and Medicaid expansion are linked,” the governor filed a lawsuit against HHS claiming that the federal government was trying to pressure Florida into expanding Medicaid, which is unconstitutional.
The federal government advised Florida last April it would discontinue Low Income Pool funding June 30, 2015. Scott assumed the program would continue at its $2 billion level when he developed his proposed budget for the 2015-16 year.
The federal government advised Florida it could expect to receive $1 billion in LIP for 2015-16 and another $600,000 for 2016-17. In his request for mediation Scott’s attorneys said the uncertainty regarding LIP has prevented the Legislature from being able to build a budget.