U.S. Justice Department officials have asked a federal judge to dismiss the lawsuit filed by the legislative leaders who challenged Gov. Roy Cooper’s attempt to expand Medicaid.

In a 21-page court document filed Friday in federal court, the Justice Department officials contended that state Senate leader Phil Berger and state House Speaker Tim Moore asked a judge to intervene in the case before they had a valid claim.

The legislative leaders filed a lawsuit before Cooper submitted his plan to expand the federal health insurance program, the justice department officials said, and before federal officials —in the Obama or Trump administrations — received, reviewed or approved Cooper’s plan.

Absent such an approval, the Justice Department officials said, the legislators could show no harm or violation of state law, as they contended in their lawsuit filed days after Cooper announced his plan.

“That was not a viable theory when this case was filed, and it is entirely implausible three months later, when the Governor still has not submitted his proposal and the Secretary who made the statement on which plaintiffs rely left office months ago,” Chad Readler, acting assistant attorney general in the Trump administration, stated in a document also signed by John Bruce, the acting U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of North Carolina.

The federal and state health officials sued by Berger and Moore also have contended that legal questions posed about yet another power struggle between the governor and lawmakers should be weighed in the state courts, not the federal courts.

Berger and Moore have until Wednesday to respond to the documents filed by federal officials.

Cooper announced his intention in January to submit a proposal to expand the federal health insurance program to cover more North Carolina residents, and an administrator from the Obama administration had agreed to process it as “expeditiously as possible.”

That’s when Berger and Moore stepped in with their lawsuit and U.S. District Judge Louise Flanagan issued a temporary restraining order that blocked any action on expansion before Trump’s inauguration.

Since then, Congress has backed off on Trump’s proposal last month to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, also known as “Obamacare.”

Some states that refused to expand Medicaid under the Obama administration are reconsidering programs under the Trump administration, which has said states would have flexibility to remake their own programs that could include eligibility restrictions for enrollees.

Medicaid extension proposal

On Friday, four Republicans in the state House filed a bill to extend Medicaid coverage to more adults and to charge hospitals to pay for it.

An estimated 300,000 to 500,000 people would gain health coverage if the state expanded Medicaid without conditions. Under that scenario, the state and federal government would cover costs.

Thirty-one states and the District of Columbia have expanded Medicaid since the Affordable Care Act provided that option – removing millions from the ranks of the uninsured – but North Carolina under Republican control has been among the holdouts. GOP political leaders have been skeptical of whether the federal government would follow through on its promise to cover most of the costs and have demanded reforms to how money is spent before expansion.

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Federal officials seek dismissal of NC legislators’ challenge to Cooper’s Medicaid expansion plan