RALEIGH, N.C. — North Carolina Republican legislative leaders sued Friday to block new Gov. Roy Cooper’s administration from expanding Medicaid coverage through the federal health care overhaul, saying the new governor lacks authority to seek it unilaterally.
The federal lawsuit was filed hours after the Democratic governor named a top administrator of President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul to lead the state Department of Health and Human Services, which contains the Medicaid program.
Dr. Mandy Cohen’s experience at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services would aid Cooper’s pursuit of expansion — for as long as the option still exists. The federal overhaul law is in danger of repeal on Capitol Hill and by President-elect Donald Trump. The U.S. House voted Friday for a budget that takes the first step toward dismantling the 2010 federal law.
Republican state lawmakers argue Cooper does not have the power to expand Medicaid unilaterally. They’ve already asked the federal Medicaid agency to reject McCrory’s request, citing in part a 2013 state law that specifically requires formal legislative support.
“Multiple attempts to amicably convince Gov. Cooper to follow the law have fallen on deaf ears,” House Speaker Tim Moore and Senate leader Phil Berger, the lawsuit’s plaintiffs, said in a news release. “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.”
The lawsuit lists defendants as both the U.S. and North Carolina health and human services departments, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and other officials. Berger and Moore accuse Cooper’s administration of working with Obama’s outgoing administration to expand Medicaid in violation of federal laws and the U.S. Constitution. They said Cooper filed formal notices so that Obama’s team could act on the request before he leaves office Jan. 20. The Trump administration could reverse any decision.
Unveiling his pursuit last week, Cooper said the Medicaid expansion could bring up to $4 billion to the state, generating health care jobs, helping rural hospitals and reducing expensive emergency care for people who can’t afford insurance. He recommended that hospitals pay the matching funds the state is required to cover to enter the program. GOP leaders oppose expansion, and the lawsuit says it could force the state to commit to spending more than $500 million through 2021.
Cooper has said the 2013 state law infringes on a governor’s core executive powers and hoped aloud that he and Republicans could join in a plan to expand coverage.
“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,” Cooper spokesman Ford Porter said late Friday in an email. “The offer to work together still stands.”
Cohen, chief operating officer for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services for the past 18 months, was a top official overseeing the insurance marketplaces created under the health overhaul law. The marketplaces offer taxpayer-subsidized private insurance to people who don’t have access to job-based coverage. North Carolina uses HealthCare.gov, the federal marketplace serving 39 states.
“Clearly we’re going to be entering difficult times in the area of health care. We need a good manager — someone who understands health care policy and the health care arena,” Cooper said at an Executive Mansion news conference.
Cohen, an internal medicine specialist who got her medical degree at Yale University, said she looked forward to implementing the governor’s expansion proposal.
“I know there’s a lot of work ahead of us, but it’s work I know well that I have done at the federal level,” she said.
Cohen would be subject to confirmation by the Senate because the legislature passed a law just before Cooper took office Jan. 1 requiring it of his Cabinet. Cooper challenged the confirmation requirement in a lawsuit this week. The governor has now announced seven Cabinet-level officers.
Moore and Berger, in announcing the litigation, said that by appointing Cohen, Cooper was “offering a cabinet post to a senior Obama administration official leading the very organization tasked with reviewing his proposal.”
Porter said Friday evening that Cohen had resigned her federal post Thursday and previously had recused herself from deliberations involving North Carolina.
Associated Press writer Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar in Washington contributed to this report.