Consumer Group Sues Over ‘Law’ Changing Medicaid Rules

March 26, 2006

The consumer watchdog group Public Citizen has filed suit in federal court charging that the Deficit Reduction Act of 2005 (DRA) signed by President Bush on February 8th is invalid because the president signed a version of the bill that was passed by the U.S. Senate but not the U.S. House of Representatives. Meanwhile, House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi and Congressman Henry Waxman, senior Democrat on the House Government Reform Committee, have sent a letter to President Bush requesting clarification on his knowledge of what he was signing.

Among various cuts in social programs, the DRA would place severe new restrictions on the ability of the elderly to transfer assets before qualifying for Medicaid coverage of nursing home care. The measure barely passed both houses of Congress. But the Constitution requires that before a bill can be enacted into law by the president, it must pass both the House and Senate in identical form. Due to a clerk’s substantive change as the legislation passed between houses, the president signed legislation that was passed by the Senate but not the House.

Public Citizen’s lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, “simply requests the court to uphold the Constitution,” said Adina Rosenbaum, a Public Citizen attorney. “The entire law is invalid because the law the House passed is different from the law the Senate passed and the president signed.”

The Congress and the president have to be brought to account for their rogue actions in moving to enact this very controversial legislation without complying with the Constitution,” said Joan Claybrook, president of Public Citizen. “This time, they will have to answer for their actions.”

Public Citizen attorneys said the suit has been assigned to U.S. District Court Judge John D. Bates, who was appointed by President Bush in December 2001. The consumer group said it does not expect a full hearing until late spring.

Alabama attorney Jim Zeigler earlier filed suit challenging the DRA’s constitutionality.

“I expect dozens of lawsuits against the DRA, because its constitutional flaw is clear and obvious,” Zeigler said in response to the Public Citizen suit. “Millions of citizens and thousands of businesses are adversely affected by the DRA.”

Zeigler said he expects to soon see senior citizens dependent on oxygen joining the suits as plaintiffs. “They are clearly affected,” he said. “Under the old law, they could receive Medicare oxygen for life. Under the new law, they are literally cut off after 13 months.”