ROCKINGHAM — All but one member of North Carolina’s Republican congressional delegation is calling for Gov. Roy Cooper’s request to expand Medicaid to be denied.
U.S. Reps. Richard Hudson, R-Concord, and Robert Pittenger, R-Charlotte, sent a letter Monday to Andrew Slavitt, acting administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, saying the former state attorney general is violating several state laws and the state constitution by issuing the request.
Cooper announced in a statement Friday that he would seek “federal approval that would allow the state to cover more uninsured North Carolinians through Medicaid.
According to the governor’s office, if the change is approved, if local matching funds can be secured and if state eligibility requirements are changed, than more than half a million residents of the Tar Heel State could “receive health care beginning in January 2018.”
“This is North Carolina common sense,” Cooper said in a statement. “We can receive between $3 billion and $4 billion to pay for care that hospitals and other providers now give away.”
He added that the expansion would create jobs, bolster hospitals and work toward stable insurance premiums.
The congressmen point out that the authority to make such a request lies with the General Assembly, not the governor, as well as all matters dealing with taxation an appropriation of funds.
“Any Governor of North Carolina does not have the legal authority to submit a Medicaid expansion plan to CMS,” the joint letter concludes. “Such actions would commit the state to approximately $600 million in new spending each year. It is unfortunate that one of Mr. Cooper’s first actions as Governor is to directly go against the same state law and Constitution he swore to uphold. It is for these reasons that we urge CMS to reject Governor Cooper’s proposal.”
The congressional letter is similar to one sent Jan. 4 by state House Speaker Tim Moore, R-Cleveland, and Senate Leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham.
“In his first days in office, Gov. Cooper is misleading North Carolinians and threatening to overstep the clear bounds of our state’s Constitution,” Hudson, who formerly represented Richmond and Anson counties, said in a statement. “Governor Cooper doesn’t have the authority to unilaterally make these changes — plain and simple. I’m proud to lead a letter to stop this unlawful proposal and save North Carolinians’ hard-earned tax dollars.”
Pittenger — who currently represents Richmond and Anson counties after congressional maps were redrawn last year — said that approving Cooper’s proposal after President-elect Donald Trump ran and won on a platform of repealing and replacing Obamacare would be “a slap in the face to North Carolina voters.”
“Expanding a failed program on the eve of President-elect Trump and Congressional Republicans enacting the agenda favored by voters would only further frustrate patients who have clearly rejected President Obama’s health care takeover,” he continued.
Aside from Hudson and Pittenger, seven other Republican representatives signed the letter: Ted Budd, George Holding, Mark Meadows, Virginia Foxx, Patrick McHenry, David Ronzer and Mark Walker.
The only Republican who didn’t sign was Rep. Walter Jones.
“The decision on whether to pursue Medicaid expansion in North Carolina is a state matter,” he said in a statement to the Daily Journal Monday. It is that reason, according to his office, Jones refrained from signing the letter.
Rep. G.K. Butterfield, D-Wilson, says it is “irresponsible” for his fellow representatives to stand in the way of North Carolinians getting “access to the most basic health care.”
I think this is a reckless and irresponsible move and North Carolinians deserve better than for my Republican colleagues to play politics with their constituents’ health care,” he told the Daily Journal. “It’s unfortunate that the members who seek to block Medicaid expansion are also working to take away affordable health care for the millions of Americans that are currently benefiting from the Affordable Care Act.”
Cooper’s office says the state law referenced by GOP legislators does not apply to his draft plan.
“Right now, North Carolina tax dollars are going to Washington, where they are being redistributed to states that have expanded Medicaid,” Cooper said in the Jan. 6 statement.
To date, according to Cooper’s office, 31 states and the District of Columbia have expanded coverage through Medicaid with those states receiving more than $70 billion in federal funds in 2016.
“Why should North Carolinians pay for Medicaid expansion in states like New Jersey, Ohio and Indiana when we don’t even expand it to our own people?” the governor asked.
The state will accept comments for 10 days on North Carolina’s notice of intent to amend its Medicaid plan, according to the Cooper administration, which will then file a state plan amendment with CMS.
Reach William R. Toler at 910-817-2675 and follow him on Twitter @William_r_toler.