Politics & Government

NC, federal officials ask judge to lift block on governor’s Medicaid expansion plan

State and federal officials filed court motions Monday asking a judge to lift a court order that temporarily blocks Gov. Roy Cooper’s plan to expand Medicaid in this state before President Barack Obama leaves office.

The requests come two days after U.S. District Judge Louise Flanagan filed a restraining order blocking Cooper from trying to expand the state’s Medicaid program for at least the next two weeks.

In their court documents filed Monday, a federal holiday honoring the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., the state and federal officials argued that Phil Berger, president pro tempore of the state Senate, and Tim Moore, speaker of the state House of Representatives, overstated potential problems that could come from such an expansion.

“Advancing a litany of inflammatory adverbs, President Pro Tempore Berger and Speaker Moore have depicted an emergency characterized by a parade of horribles, including a Governor who has arrogated unto himself the unilateral right to expand Medicaid, and who – if not stopped by this Court – will commit the State to spend millions of dollars without legislative approval,” the filing from state officials named by Berger and Moore states. “But that narrative is deeply flawed and – facing no challenge through the adversarial process – has led this Court to use equitable powers that have no sound foundation here.”

U.S. Justice Department attorneys representing U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell contended the case does not belong in federal court. “North Carolina legislators are engaged in a dispute with the Governor and the state’s Department of Health and Human Services as to whether the state agency may seek to amend North Carolina’s Medicaid state plan to accept coverage for an expanded population,” their court filing states.

Berger and Moore sued state and federal officials on Friday, contending that Cooper’s plan violated a state law adopted in 2013. Berger was critical of the requests to Flanagan to lift her order.

“There’s no question if this was an honest or legal attempt to expand Obamacare, they would have no problem waiting four more days until President Donald J. Trump was sworn into office,” Berger wrote on Facebook on Monday.

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 last week 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.

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 contends that the state laws blocking expansion impinge on “the core executive authority” of the executive branch.

“North Carolina will miss out on more jobs and better health care without Medicaid expansion, and it’s frustrating and disappointing that we’re having to fight our own legislature in court to get it done,” Cooper said in a statement late Monday. “Tax dollars already paid by North Carolinians are funding Medicaid expansion in other states, and we want to bring that money back home to work for us here.”

Anne Blythe: 919-836-4948, @AnneBlythe1