Pending before the Supreme Court this session are two important health care cases: Health and Hospital Corp. v Talevski and Kerr v. Edwards. At issue is whether the Court could strip Medicaid beneficiaries, the providers that serve them, and any other beneficiary of a state administered health and welfare program, of access to court redress should state officials deny, reduce or terminate benefits guaranteed under federal law. Federal statutes guarantee that the poorest Americans have rights. Yet without the right to seek help from the federal courts when rights to essential services, such as medical care and food, are threatened, then the right ceases to exist. The essence of legal entitlement is the ability to protect one’s benefits against arbitrary, unlawful termination or denial. When access to a court is denied, then benefits cease to be rights and rather simply become a charitiable gift – which can be removed at will.
These cases ask whether the Court should reexamine its holding that Spending Clause legislation gives rise to privately enforeceable rights under Section 1983. Like the review of Roe vs. Wade, these cases invite a review of fifty-five years of judicial precedent. Moreover, the court’s review suggests it may have a disregard of all judicial opinions that expanded the rigths of beneficiaries for programs such as Medicaid – the nation’s largest public health insurer. The state of South Carolina in Kerr expressly asks whether private individuals can bring claims against state Medicaid officials for violations of federal Medicaid law. They argue for the elimination of section 1983 actions for Spending Clauses benefits.
About 84 million Americans receive Medicaid, SNAP or TANF benefits, that is about 26 percent of the US population. About 45 million children receive SNAP benefits. Of the 84 million, 41 % are white non-Hispanic, 20 % were black, 27 percent Hispanic. The majority of the beneficiaries are women, 37 percent are children. The result is that state officials may simply suspend Medicaid enrollment or deny covered treatments without having to face the prospect of court injunction.