State Politics

NC legislators drop lawsuit challenging Cooper’s attempt to expand Medicaid under Obamacare

Rev. William Barber, head of the NC NAACP, standing, prays over 13 protesters who participated in a die-in at under the rotunda of the NC Legislature in February 2015 to protest the state's continued denial of Medicaid expansion for hundreds of thousands of North Carolinians. The protesters were from the NC NAACP and the Forward Together Moral Movement.
Rev. William Barber, head of the NC NAACP, standing, prays over 13 protesters who participated in a die-in at under the rotunda of the NC Legislature in February 2015 to protest the state's continued denial of Medicaid expansion for hundreds of thousands of North Carolinians. The protesters were from the NC NAACP and the Forward Together Moral Movement. N&O file photo

North Carolina’s legislative leaders have dropped their lawsuit challenging Gov. Roy Cooper’s attempt to expand the state’s Medicaid program in the waning days of Barack Obama’s presidency.

Phil Berger, president pro tempore of the N.C. Senate, and Tim Moore, speaker of the state House, announced on Thursday that they had decided to withdraw the case because Cooper never submitted his plan to expand the federal health insurance program to the Obama or Donald Trump administrations.

The lawsuit named federal and state human-services officials as defendants, but not Cooper. The lawmakers argued that Cooper could not 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.

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

The lawsuit was filed in federal court in the Eastern District of North Carolina, a 44-county region that spans from Raleigh to the coast.

In a document filed in the case last week, attorneys representing Tom Price, Trump’s secretary of Health and Human Services, asked for the case to be dropped against that agency, saying the legislators had no claim because there was no application before the federal office with a request to expand the program.

“We are pleased Gov. Cooper abandoned his plan to defy state and federal law and unilaterally expand Obamacare in North Carolina, but remain prepared to take swift legal action if he tries to make this unlawful move again,” Berger and Moore said in a joint statement.

The lawmakers said they would renew a legal challenge if Cooper tried again to expand Medicaid without the lawmakers’ approval.

The North Carolina lawmakers dropped their lawsuit while much about health care in this country is ambiguous.

The Trump administration has pushed for the repeal of Obamacare, put forward a plan to repeal and replace the former president’s signature health care plan and now is calling on the U.S. Congress to take action despite building opposition to the proposals put forward.

Ford Porter, Cooper's spokesman, criticized Berger and Moore for filing the lawsuit.

"We’re glad that Republican legislative leaders have dropped their case against bringing health care to millions of North Carolinians,” Porter said in a statement. “Expanding health care is the right thing to do for North Carolina’s people and our economy, and it would allow tax dollars already being paid by North Carolinians to help right here at home instead of going to other states. Legislators should never have filed this suit in the first place and it’s a shame it took them this long to figure that out.”

Anne Blythe: 919-836-4948, @AnneBlythe1

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