News: Quick Takes

Legislative leaders dismiss lawsuit over Medicaid expansion

With Gov. Roy Cooper’s desire to expand Medicaid withering on the vine, legislative leaders decided to dismiss a lawsuit that sought to block what they saw as unconstitutional action.

“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,” Senate leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, and House Speaker Tim Moore, R-Cleveland, said in a joint statement Thursday.

U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price filed a notice last week saying no basis for the lawsuit existed because Cooper failed to file an application for his $6 billion expansion plan.

Berger and Moore said the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services informed them Cooper failed to follow through on his expansion request.

Should Cooper file the official paperwork, CMS would consider whether the expansion plan is adequately funded and whether the executive branch has the legal authority to administer it.

“These criteria would almost certainly disqualify the governor’s scheme, since Cooper does not have the authority to unilaterally expand Obamacare, his 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,” Berger and Moore’s news release said.

Cooper spokesman Ford Porter cast the situation in a more favorable light for the governor.

“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. “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.”

Cooper’s attempt to coordinate a hasty Medicaid expansion with the outgoing Obama administration without legislative approval was among early actions that quickly soured relations between the two branches and helped set a combative tone.

The governor did not have the backing of the North Carolina Hospital Association, a powerful voice concerned with Cooper’s intention to levy assessments against hospitals to pay the state’s 5 percent matching share.

Cooper’s plan encountered other headwinds when President Trump signed an executive order commanding federal agencies to “minimize the unwarranted economic and regulatory burdens of the [Affordable Care] Act.”