State Politics

NC lawmakers file lawsuit to stop Cooper’s Medicaid expansion plan

House Speaker Tim Moore, left, and Senate leader Phil Berger chat during a special session of the North Carolina General Assembly in Raleigh on Dec. 16.
House Speaker Tim Moore, left, and Senate leader Phil Berger chat during a special session of the North Carolina General Assembly in Raleigh on Dec. 16.

North Carolina lawmakers announced Friday that they filed a federal lawsuit challenging Gov. Roy Cooper’s plan to expand Medicaid without their approval.

Phil Berger, president pro tempore of the N.C. Senate, and Tim Moore, speaker of the state House, issued a joint statement about their lawsuit, one of several court fights between the executive and legislative branches since they have led the General Assembly. Most recently, Cooper has sued over lawmakers’ efforts to limit his power.

The lawsuit names federal and state Health and Human Services officials as defendants, but not Cooper. The lawmakers argue that Cooper cannot act unilaterally to expand the program under a state law adopted in 2013, countering the governor’s contentions that the statute impinges on “the core executive authority” of the executive branch.

“Unlike others, this is the first time we will be plaintiffs in a lawsuit, and it is not a decision we’ve made lightly – but unfortunately our multiple attempts to amicably convince Gov. Cooper to follow the law have fallen on deaf ears,” Berger and Moore said in a joint statement. “Cooper’s brazen decision to press on with his unconstitutional Obamacare expansion scheme and ignore the General Assembly’s constitutional role to make laws requires swift legal action.”

Cooper was sworn in as North Carolina governor shortly after midnight on Jan. 1. During his first week in office, the former state attorney general sought permission from the federal government to expand Medicaid as outlined in the Affordable Care Act. His plan would allow hundreds of thousands more people to sign up for government health insurance.

The Obama administration pledged Monday to act quickly on Cooper’s plan. President-elect Donald Trump and the Republican-led Congress want to repeal the Affordable Care Act, President Barack Obama’s signature health law.

Ford Porter, a spokesman for Cooper, issued a statement Friday critical of the lawsuit. “It’s disappointing that legislative leaders are once again fighting the Governor instead of working with him to bring better health care for hundreds of thousands of working people and more jobs to North Carolina,” Porter said. “The offer to work together still stands.”

Under Medicaid, the state and federal governments pay medical costs for low-income families and individuals, mostly poor children, some of their parents, the elderly and disabled. Expansion under the Affordable Care Act would raise income limits to cover more people, including more childless adults.

State leaders have refused to expand Medicaid coverage. The Republican-dominated legislature went so far as to approve legislation in 2013 that bars the executive branch from expanding the program.

Cooper on Friday named a new secretary over the state Department of Health and Human Services: Mandy Cohen, a high-ranking official who was at the agency considering the state’s Medicaid request until she resigned from her post Thursday.

“Today has raised even more serious questions about how closely Gov. Cooper and the Obama administration have coordinated to force an unconstitutional Obamacare expansion in the last few days of the president’s administration, with the governor offering a cabinet post to a senior Obama administration official leading the very organization tasked with reviewing his proposal,” Berger and Moore said in their joint statement.

Anne Blythe: 919-836-4948, @AnneBlythe1

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