Preserving the Civil Rights of Medicaid Beneficiaries

September 27, 2022

The civil rights law 42 US Code Section 1983 (also known as “Section 1983”) allows individuals to sue the federal, state or local government or affiliates if those entities have deprived the individual of their rights. For decades, it has been the law under which Medicaid beneficiaries sue government entities if they have been unable to get the care they need. The Medicaid statute uses Congress’s Spending Clause powers, and the US Supreme Court will be considering the legal question of whether all programs that are enacted using Spending Clause powers can be enforced using Section 1983 in the case of Health and Hospital Corp of Marion County v Televski. The case will determine whether individuals who receive benefits from Spending Clause programs such as Medicaid, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), and Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) have the ability to sue to enforce their civil rights to these programs.

Medicaid is critical to health equity. In many instances, the only recourse beneficiaries have to enforce their rights to these programs is to sue governments under Section 1983. For decades, legal precedents have allowed them to do so. ACS CAN led 12 public health organizations in filing an amicus (or “friend of the court”) brief providing the Supreme Court with scientific data demonstrating why Medicaid services are critical to patient outcomes, with an emphasis on studies showing that Medicaid expansion has led to increased screening and early detection of cancers. The public health groups issued a press release concurrently with the brief.