News: CJ Exclusives

Court order could end Cooper’s Medicaid expansion plan

Federal judge bars any Medicaid action for remainder of Obama administration; Trump's HHS pick wants to repeal law

Gov. Roy Cooper’s attempt to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act before President Obama leaves office may have run aground as the result of an order issued Saturday night by a federal judge.

U.S. District Judge Louise Flanagan issued a 14-day restraining order barring federal officials from approving Cooper’s $6 billion plan expanding Medicaid coverage to between 500,000 and 650,000 mostly able-bodied, working-age, single males.

The order will remain in effect after President-elect Donald Trump is sworn into office Friday. Rep. Tom Price, R-Ga., Trump’s choice to head the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, could be confirmed the same day. Price supports repealing the Affordable Care Act and presumably would not pursue Cooper’s proposal even after the judge’s order expires.

Flangan’s order granted a motion filed late Friday afternoon by Senate Leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, and House Speaker Tim Moore, R-Cleveland.

“The federal defendants are enjoined from formally approving the proposed State Plan Amendment or any similar State Plan Amendment that does not comply with the requirements” of applicable sections of the Social Security Act, “and is not submitted pursuant to a valid authorization by the state,” the order said.

The order further blocked state or federal officials “from submitting the proposed State Plan Amendment or any similar State Plan Amendment” that does not comply with that same section of the Social Security Act.

Named as defendants were Sylvia Burwell, secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; Andrew Slavitt, acting administrator at the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services; Renard Murray, the Atlanta-based regional administrator for CMS; and Dempsey Benton, interim secretary at the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services.

Berger announced the restraining order late Saturday in a post on his Facebook page:

“JUST IN: a federal court just granted the temporary restraining order NC Speaker Tim Moore and I requested to stop Roy Cooper’s illegal attempt to expand Obamacare in North Carolina. Please LIKE and SHARE with your friends who agree North Carolina families can’t afford more of Barack Obama’s failed policies.”

Within two hours the post garnered 2,300 likes, 1,100 shares, and 173 comments, with the numbers continuing to grow. Some comments chastised Republicans for not expanding Medicaid. Others blasted Cooper for trying unilaterally to grow Medicaid enrollment under Obamacare.

Republican leaders in the General Assembly consistently have maintained that Cooper’s move was unlawful and unwise.

“He seems to want a contentious fight in the Medicaid field, and I’m quite confident with this decision he doesn’t know Medicaid policies, law, or procedures well enough to even attempt in those areas this type of argument,” state Sen. Ralph Hise, R-Mitchell, said upon learning of Cooper’s plan to circumvent the General Assembly and unilaterally expand Medicaid.

Among other blunders was Cooper’s failure to notify the Cherokee tribe, which by law must be informed 90 days before any amendments to the Medicaid program are sought, Hise told Carolina Journal last week.

Hise chairs the joint legislative committee that oversees Medicaid. Hise suggested after Cooper’s Medicaid announcement that the only way the federal government would approve a plan so quickly would be if Cooper had been working behind the scenes with the Obama administration.

A few days later Burwell said efforts would be made to expedite Cooper’s request. Berger said it was apparent Cooper had been pursuing the deal for months.

Berger and Moore argued Friday that Cooper’s selection that day of Dr. Mandy Cohen — chief operating officer of CMS — to run the state Department of Health and Human Services while Washington was considering the Medicaid expansion plan posed a conflict of interest.

In an email to the News & Observer, Cooper spokeswoman Noelle Talley said Republicans were trying to deny health coverage and jobs to North Carolina.

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

Donald Bryson, North Carolina director for Americans for Prosperity, in a news release called Flanagan’s temporary restraining order “a breath of fresh air to taxpayers.”

“While Obamacare is in the twilight of its lifespan, Governor Cooper sought to expand it without legal authority on a state that has been heading in the right fiscal direction. This use of executive power – if left unrestrained – could financially cripple the state budget,” Bryson said.

Bryson said Americans for Prosperity staff and volunteers will be holding phone banks statewide next week to encourage residents to sign a petition opposing the expansion.