Dr. Mandy Cohen won unanimous support from a Senate committee considering her qualifications to run the state Department of Health and Human Services, one of North Carolina’s largest agencies.
Republicans who control the Senate have been in near constant combat with Cohen’s boss, Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper, and some GOP senators had pointed questions for Cohen about Cooper’s attempt to expand Medicaid – which legislative Republicans oppose – and about her previous job as a top administrator in the federal agency that oversees Medicaid and Medicare in the Obama administration.
Throughout, Cohen emphasized her pragmatism and commitment to working on issues of interest to senators.
“I am a pragmatic, solution-oriented leader who’s looking to partner with you to find common ground,” Cohen said in her opening statement to the Senate Health Care Committee. “The future here in North Carolina is great. I look forward to working with you all as we build a healthier North Carolina together.”
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The committee’s recommendation to confirm Cohen now goes to the Senate Select Committee on Nominations and then to a vote of the full Senate.
Cohen has been on the job for about two months. She’s spent part of that time meeting with legislators, and several members of the Senate thanked her for visits.
Before she was hired, Cooper took the first steps in asking the federal government for permission to expand Medicaid, which Republican legislators contended was illegal and which is now bottled up in court. The state passed a law several years ago prohibiting expansion without legislative consent.
Sen. Ralph Hise, a Spruce Pine Republican, asked if Cohen agreed that Cooper’s action was a violation of state law.
Cohen replied that there’s no way to move forward on expansion “without coming back to the General Assembly.”
Cohen worked at the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
Her husband is a health-care attorney who mostly handles federal issues. The State Ethics Commission has warned that Cohen has a potential for a conflict of interest. Cohen said her husband has no clients in the state.
Cooper had sued to stop the confirmation hearings. But a three-judge panel sided with lawmakers on that issue, and on Wednesday the panel rejected Cooper’s motion to delay the confirmation proceedings while the case is on appeal.