The Spending Clause grants Congress the power “to pay the Debts and provide for the . . . general Welfare of the United States.” Art. I, §8, cl. 1. Congress may use this power to establish cooperative state-federal Spending Clause programs. The legitimacy of Spending Clause legislation, however, depends on whether a State voluntarily and knowingly accepts the terms of such programs. Pennhurst State School and Hospital v. Halderman, 451 U. S. 1, 17. “[T]he Constitution simply does not give Congress the authority to require the States to regulate.” New York v. United States, 505 U. S. 144, 178. When Congress threatens to terminate other grants as a means of pressuring the States to accept a Spending Clause program, the legislation runs counter to this Nation’s system of federalism. Cf. South Dakota v. Dole, 483 U. S. 203, 211. Pp. 45–51.
Section 1396c gives the Secretary of Health and Human Services the authority to penalize States that choose not to participate in the Medicaid expansion by taking away their existing Medicaid funding. 42 U. S. C. §1396c. The threatened loss of over 10 percent of a State’s overall budget is economic dragooning that leaves the States with no real option but to acquiesce in the Medicaid expansion. The Government claims that the expansion is properly viewed as only a modification of the existing program, and that this modification is permissible because Congress reserved the “right to alter, amend, or repeal any provision” of Medicaid. §1304. But the expansion accomplishes a shift in kind, not merely degree. The original program was designed to cover medical services for particular categories of vulnerable individuals. Under the Affordable Care Act, Medicaid is transformed into a program to meet the health care needs of the entire nonelderly population with income below 133 percent of the poverty level. A State could hardly anticipate that Congress’s reservation of the right to “alter” or “amend” the Medicaid program included the power to transform it so dramatically. The Medicaid expansion thus violates the Constitution by threatening States with the loss of their existing Medicaid funding if they decline to comply with the expansion. Pp. 51–55.
The constitutional violation is fully remedied by precluding the Secretary from applying §1396c to withdraw existing Medicaid funds for failure to comply with the requirements set out in the expansion. See §1303. The other provisions of the Affordable Care Act are not affected. Congress would have wanted the rest of the Act to stand, had it known that States would have a genuine choice whether to participate in the Medicaid expansion. Pp. 55–58.Dylan Scott writes at Governing:
What does this mean for other federal-state programs? Federal education funding, for example, is based on states meeting certain student achievement goals. Likewise, states must meet federal safety requirements to receive some infrastructure and transportation funding. Does the Court's decision change the federal-state relationship and lay the grounds to challenge future attempts by Congress to set conditions for federal funding to states?
“I think that’s the million-dollar question, and it might,” said Lisa Soronen, executive director of the State and Local Legal Center, during a discussion on the ruling’s implications Friday. “But only time will tell.”