@NCCapitol

@NCCapitol

NC, federal officials ask judge to lift block on Medicaid expansion

Posted January 16, 2017 5:52 p.m. EST
Updated January 16, 2017 6:11 p.m. EST

Roy Cooper

— Lawyers representing both the state and federal health departments have asked a federal judge to lift her order blocking North Carolina from expanding the state's Medicaid program.

The requests filed by the state and federal governments Monday say that top Republican lawmakers seeking to block Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper and the Obama administration from acting have over-hyped the potential problems North Carolina could face.

"This case does not belong in federal court," lawyers with the U.S. Justice Department wrote on behalf of Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell. "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."

Medicaid is the health insurance program for the poor and disabled jointly run by state and federal governments. Under the Affordable Care Act, what some people call "Obamacare," states were able to expand coverage to new populations and have the federal government pick up 95 percent of the costs.

Republicans who have controlled the state legislature since 2011 have blocked expansion, passing at least two laws that say the governor isn't allowed to move for expansion without the go-ahead from lawmakers.

But Cooper, who took office Jan. 1, ran on a promise to expand Medicaid and said the confluence of state and federal laws allows him to thread a legal needle and expand the program on his own. House Speaker Tim Moore and Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger sued the state and federal health departments late last week to block Cooper's expansion efforts.

"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."

A federal court Saturday night issued a temporary restraining order blocking Cooper's administration and the federal government from proceeding with expansion.

But lawyers for the Cooper administration say GOP lawmakers created their own emergency by filing suit late on a Friday night before a holiday weekend.

"There was no reason Plaintiffs could not have moved for this extraordinary relief during the preceding week – they were fully aware during that prior week of all circumstances on which they sought relief," reads one brief.

Spokesmen for legislative leaders did not immediately respond to requests for comment. But on Facebook, Berger, R-Rockingham, encouraged constituents to call Cooper's office and object to the Medicaid move.

"We've just received word that Roy Cooper and Barack Obama are trying to get the courts to dissolve the temporary restraining order that is preventing Cooper's illegal attempt to expand Obamacare in North Carolina," Berger wrote. "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."