- Associated Press - Saturday, January 14, 2017

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) - A federal judge late Saturday temporarily blocked the U.S. government from quickly approving any proposal by North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper designed to expand Medicaid coverage to potentially hundreds of thousands of uninsured people through President Barack Obama’s signature health care law.

The order issued by U.S. District Judge Louise Flanagan came a day after Republican legislative leaders sued to block federal regulators from granting the expansion that the new Democratic governor has started seeking.

Earlier Saturday, lawyers for House Speaker Tim Moore and Senate leader Phil Berger wrote Flanagan that they were worried federal Medicaid regulators could implement the expansion as early as Monday in the final days of the Obama administration. A 10-day window for public comment after Cooper formally told the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services of his intent to seek expansion ends Sunday, according to a court document attached to the lawmakers’ request for the delay.

The order for now lasts two weeks, which could defer the matter to regulators in the administration of Donald Trump, who backs the Republican-led Congress in wanting to repeal the health care overhaul that provides the expansion offer. There’s no word yet on a lawsuit hearing. The North Carolina GOP leaders have requested a longer block.

The GOP leaders who sued have opposed expansion. They say the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services aren’t allowed to grant Cooper’s request because it would violate federal laws and the U.S. Constitution. At the heart of their argument is a 2013 state law saying an expansion request specifically requires formal legislative support, which lawmakers say Cooper lacks.

“The governor’s application to expand Medicaid is no more a valid representation of the state’s interest than would be an application submitted by the North Carolina Supreme Court or even a citizen of Idaho,” lawyers for Berger and Moore wrote Saturday.

Cooper has said the 2013 state law infringes on a governor’s core executive powers, and his office, in a news release earlier this month, said the 2013 law “does not apply to this draft plan.” Cooper has said the Medicaid expansion could start in January 2018, generating jobs, helping rural hospitals and reducing expensive emergency care for the uninsured.

“It’s disappointing that legislative leaders will go to such extraordinary lengths to put political ideology ahead of bringing billions of dollars, tens of thousands of good paying jobs and better health care to our state,” Cooper spokeswoman Noelle Talley said in an email after Saturday’s ruling. Cooper isn’t a named defendant in the lawsuit but the health and human services department he runs is identified.

Saturday’s ruling also prevents state regulators from submitting a formal proposal unless it complies with certain

The state would have to provide a financial match to receive the federal Medicaid funds. Cooper has suggested the match could come from hospitals. But the lawsuit says expansion could commit the state to spending more than $500 million through 2021.

The U.S. Department of Justice, which is defending the federal government in the case, declined comment late Saturday through a spokeswoman.

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