Judge Dismisses Consumer Group's Challenge to Law Changing Medicaid Rules

A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit filed by the consumer group Public Citizen, challenging the constitutionality of the Deficit Reduction Act of 2005 (DRA). In Public Citizen v. Clerk (U.S. Dist. Ct., D.C., No. 06-0523, August 11, 2006), the judge held that the court was not authorized to investigate Congressional proceedings to determine whether the version of the bill signed into law was the same version passed by the House and the Senate.

Among various cuts in social programs, the DRA places severe new restrictions on the ability of the elderly to transfer assets before qualifying for Medicaid coverage of nursing home care. The legislation barely passed both houses of Congress. A discrepancy apparently happened when the Senate enacted the DRA with a provision allowing Medicare to pay beneficiaries for oxygen care for 13 months, but the House passed a version allowing for a 36-month payment -- an estimated $2 billion difference. A Senate clerk later discovered the error and changed the language to what the Senate originally approved. The Speaker of the House and President Pro Tem of the Senate then certified the bill as passed and sent it to the President for his signature.

Public Citizen argued that the DRA violated the Bicameral Clause of the United States Constitution, Article 1, Section 7 because the version of the legislation voted on by the House was not identical to that passed by the Senate. (See "Consumer Group Sues Over 'Law' Changing Medicaid Rules.")

The U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia ruled that the "enrolled bill" rule applies. In Marshall Field & Co. v. Clark (143 U.S. 649 (1892)), the Supreme Court held that once a bill is deposited in the public Archives, a court should not look behind the President's signature to question whether it in fact passed both houses. According to the court, although the bill was in "some respects outdated," it was still applicable law that should be applied broadly.

Public Citizen called the decision "overly broad" and plans to appeal. The lawsuit was one of four lawsuits filed in the wake of the DRA. In June, another federal court dismissed a lawsuit filed by an independent professional student loan firm and two individual Federal Family Education Loan (FFEL) institutions, holding that the plaintiffs' lacked standing. Lawsuits have also been filed by ElderLawAnswers member attorney Jim Zeigler and members of the House of Representatives.

To download the full text of the opinion in PDF format, click here.