Cooper attempt to expand Medicaid draws federal lawsuit from state lawmakers

Legislative leaders call governors move unconstitutional, attempts to persuade Cooper have "fallen on deaf ears."

Eamon Queeney—The North State Journal
Legislators from left: Senate Pro-Tem Phil Berger

RALEIGH — Republican leaders of the North Carolina General House and Senate issued a joint statement announcing they intend to file a federal complaint Friday to stop Gov. Roy Cooper’s attempt to expand Medicaid via federally approved amendment to the State Medicaid Plan.

“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,” read the statement from Senate Leader Phil Berger (R-Rockingham) and House Speaker Rep. Tim Moore (R-Kings Mountain).

The statement continued, “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. 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.”

Legislative leaders have maintained that Cooper lacks the authority to unilaterally expand Medicaid eligibility thresholds with out approval of the General Assembly.

“This administration cannot take steps to increase Medicaid eligibility and the state constitution does not allow him to spend billions of state tax dollars to expand Obamacare without legislative approval,” stated a joint press release.

The lawmakers asked Congress and the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to disapprove the governor’s request.

Despite the imminent arrival of President-elect Trump to the White House, state Republicans pointed to recent statements from the outgoing secretary of President Obama’s Department of Health and Human Services Sylvia Burwell as a source of concern. Burwell said publicly that “North Carolina just announced its plans to expand” the entitlement program and added that her agency would expeditiously process the governor’s application.

Further concern for Republican state lawmakers came in the form of Cooper’s choice this week to lead the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services, Dr. Mandy Cohen. Cohen, the CMS’ outgoing chief operating officer, leads the agency that determines approval of the state’s application to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act during the final days of the Obama administration.

Republicans say her job offer represents a conflict of interest considering her current federal authority in the matter. The lawsuit will be filed in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina. The incoming Trump administration is inaugurated on January 20. The N.C. General Assembly convenes again on January 25.