State Politics

Gov. Roy Cooper’s Medicaid expansion plan temporarily blocked

A federal judge has temporarily suspended Gov. Roy Cooper’s plan to expand Medicaid in North Carolina.

Saturday’s order prevents the Obama administration from taking action on Cooper’s request to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act — which was made without approval of the Republican legislature — for 14 days or until the court takes further action.

Federal health officials had vowed to move quickly on the request. But a 14-day pause would leave the request in the hands of the Trump administration. President-elect Donald Trump opposes the health law and has vowed to repeal it, which the Republican-led Congress is already moving to do.

Republican state Senate leader Phil Berger and state House Speaker Tim Moore filed a lawsuit Friday arguing that Cooper cannot act unilaterally to expand the program under a state law adopted in 2013, countering the Democratic governor’s contentions that the statute impinges on “the core executive authority” of the executive branch.

The lawsuit, which was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina, names federal and state Health and Human Services officials as defendants, but not Cooper.

Conservative advocacy group Americans for Prosperity’s North Carolina state director, Donald Bryson, released a statement praising Judge Louise Flanagan’s decision to temporarily halt the expansion.

“Governor Cooper’s blatant attempt to breathe a last bit of life into Obamacare should outrage taxpayers.” he said. “Americans for Prosperity will continue to hold Governor Cooper accountable for his actions, as it appears his action is a trend toward increasing the size of government and limiting economic freedom in North Carolina.”

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 approved legislation in 2013 that bars the executive branch from expanding the program.

Cooper spokeswoman Noelle Talley criticized legislators, saying they were putting political ideology ahead of bringing jobs and better health care to North Carolina

“They’re wasting taxpayer dollars and letting money already paid by North Carolinians go to other states,” Talley stated in an email.

Chris Cioffi; 919-829-4802, @ReporterCioffi

Related stories from Raleigh News & Observer