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Swift federal action vowed on NC governor’s Medicaid expansion plan

In this June 24, 2016, file photo, North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper speaks during a forum in Charlotte, N.C. Cooper, North Carolina's next Democratic governor, has vowed to keep his campaign promises to bend back the rightward course of the state. But with only a 10,000-vote victory over GOP Gov. Pat McCrory and bitter partisan distrust in this deeply divided state, he’s already slipped along the rocky path he must walk to work successfully with the Legislature. And Republicans will maintain veto-proof majorities in 2017.
In this June 24, 2016, file photo, North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper speaks during a forum in Charlotte, N.C. Cooper, North Carolina's next Democratic governor, has vowed to keep his campaign promises to bend back the rightward course of the state. But with only a 10,000-vote victory over GOP Gov. Pat McCrory and bitter partisan distrust in this deeply divided state, he’s already slipped along the rocky path he must walk to work successfully with the Legislature. And Republicans will maintain veto-proof majorities in 2017. AP

The Obama administration pledged Monday to act quickly on North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper’s plan to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, which Republicans want to repeal.

Outgoing Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell suggested Monday that North Carolina could see a quick answer on its request to expand Medicaid. She demurred on the dispute between Cooper and the Republican-controlled state Legislature over Medicaid, but said, “We will process the governor’s proposal as expeditiously as possible when we get it.”

Burwell’s comments came as two Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives from North Carolina – Reps. Robert Pittenger and Richard Hudson – fired off a letter to Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services acting Administrator Andrew Slavitt, urging him to reject Cooper’s expansion plan.

Hudson and Pittenger said Cooper’s move was illegal because a 2013 state law prevented the governor from seeking expanded Medicaid coverage without the state Legislature’s support.

Regardless of the legality of Gov. Cooper’s proposal, approving this request in the final days of President Obama’s administration when President-elect Trump won overwhelmingly on a platform of repealing and replacing Obamacare would be a slap in the face to North Carolina voters.

Rep. Robert Pittenger, R-N.C.

Cooper sent a letter to federal officials last week alerting them of his intention to expand Medicaid, which currently covers 1.9 million North Carolinians and costs $14 billion a year. Two-thirds of the expense is paid for by the federal government.

“Any governor of North Carolina does not have the legal authority to submit a Medicaid expansion plan to CMS,” Hudson and Pittenger wrote. “Such actions would commit the state to approximately $600 million in new spending each year. It is unfortunate that one of Mr. Cooper’s first actions as governor is to directly go against the same state law and Constitution he swore to uphold. It is for these reasons that we urge CMS to reject Gov. Cooper’s proposal.”

The letter was co-signed by North Carolina Republican Reps. Ted Budd, Virginia Foxx, George Holding, Patrick McHenry, Mark Meadows, David Rouzer and Mark Walker.

Speaking at Washington’s National Press Club on the future of the Affordable Care Act, Burwell noted that under the health care law, the uninsured rate in the U.S. has dropped below 9 percent, the lowest ever.

She credited the drop to the growth in insurance marketplaces and to the 31 states – along with Washington, D.C. – that have expanded their Medicaid programs.

And, she noted, “that number may soon be 32, since North Carolina just announced its plans to expand.”

She noted that expansion in North Carolina could mean coverage for “hundreds of thousands of people.”

William Douglas: 202-383-6026, @williamgdouglas

Lesley Clark: 202-383-6054, @lesleyclark

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