RALEIGH, N.C. — Attorney General Roy Cooper said Friday that North Carolina won't challenge the new health care bill signed by President Obama last month.
Seventeen states have already filed suit to challenge the constitutionality of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, and Republicans have been pushing to get North Carolina involved in the increasingly partisan effort.
During a recent Council of State meeting, for example, the two Republican statewide officials, Labor Commissioner Cherie Berry and Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler, wanted to discuss state funding for a lawsuit.
Hundreds of tea party protesters also have urged North Carolina to join in the lawsuit challenging the cost and mandates of health care reform.
Cooper said his office reviewed the health reform law and the other state challenges to it, and he believes the law is legal because Congress has the power to regulate interstate commerce.
"This was a strictly legal review," he told WRAL News. "I think healthy debate is good, but it belongs in the policy arena in front of elected representatives."
Gov. Beverly Perdue said through a spokeswoman that she agrees with Cooper's decision.
"There Is ample time for elected representatives to change this legislation since most of the provisions in question will not take effect until the year 2013," Cooper said in a letter to Perdue outlining his decision.
If the law is overturned in the courts, he added, North Carolina would be covered by the decision, even though it didn't participate in the lawsuit.
Berry said that she respects Cooper's decision, although she doesn't agree with it.
Other state Republican Party leaders immediately blasted the move, however, saying Cooper, a Democrat, isn't standing up for North Carolina residents.
"The Constitution does not give the federal government the power to force North Carolina's citizens to purchase health insurance. North Carolina needs an attorney general who understands the Constitution and has the courage to fight for her citizens," GOP Chairman Tom Fetzer said in a statement.
"If the attorney general is willing to allow the federal government this kind of overreach of its authority, you have to wonder if there is anything he won't allow Washington to force on North Carolina,” Senate Minority Leader Phil Berger said in a statement.
Some GOP lawmakers plan to introduce bills in the House and the Senate before the General Assembly reconvenes next month that would prevent the government from requiring people to obtain health insurance – a key provision of the new federal law.
Cooper noted in his letter to Perdue that provisions of the law address common consumer complaints in North Carolina, including prohibiting insurance companies from refusing to cover people because of pre-existing conditions or from dropping coverage on people who have suffered a serious injury or illness.
"Problems with health insurance and health care have led the list of consumer complaints in our office for the past five years," he said. "Instead of court fights and exaggerated rhetoric from both sides, it Is my hope that state and federal leaders will focus on the real health care challenges people face every day."