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Cooper: Expanding Medicaid can't wait

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Elizabeth City Mayor Bettie Parker and Gov. Roy Cooper speak after a ribbon-cutting to celebrate the expansion of the communications firm Telephonics into a new building at 112 Corporate Drive, Tuesday afternoon.

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By Jon Hawley
Staff Writer

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Governor Roy Cooper held his ground on Medicaid expansion and also called for “common-sense” gun control measures during his visit to Pasquotank County on Tuesday.

Cooper was in the county to announce Telephonics’ expansion into the Pasquotank County Commerce Park, but also agreed to a brief interview on other issues.

Cooper reiterated his demand that the General Assembly expand Medicaid in the next state budget. The Legislature’s Republican majorities sent Cooper a budget in June that includes some raises for teachers and state employees, plus more spending on schools and several high-priority local earmarks, but Cooper vetoed it in late June, calling for greater investments in education and — more controversially — expansion of Medicaid to offer health coverage to working but low-income adults.

In recent interviews, area lawmakers suggested Medicaid expansion could be discussed this fall — and noted the budget includes such a provision.

Cooper, however, reiterated his position that the expansion shouldn’t wait any longer.

“The Republican leadership has had six years to expand Medicaid, and they haven’t done it,” he said. “Now is the time, when we’re dealing with a $24 billion budget, to talk about another $4 billion that can come down to North Carolina” to expand health coverage through federal funding.

He also called Medicaid expansion the “biggest economic boost we can give to rural North Carolina.”

Cooper also criticized legislative Republicans for trying to “bribe” Democratic lawmakers to override his veto, rather than negotiate on Medicaid.

Notably, North Carolina already insures some families who are low income but slightly above the income limits for Medicaid. The NC Health Choice program is available for the children of such families, the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services website explains.

Asked if he would consider an incremental expansion of Medicaid — which would shrink but not immediately eliminate the state’s coverage gap — Cooper responded “all options need to be on the table.”

“I would like for us to find a way to use these federal dollars” already committed to the expansion, he said.

In an unrelated matter, Cooper discussed his renewed call for gun-control legislation, in response to a mass shooter killing 22 people in El Paso, Texas, on Saturday and another shooter killing nine in Dayton, Ohio, on Sunday.

In a press release on Monday, Cooper called for the General Assembly to take up two gun control bills, House Bill 86 and House Bill 454. H86 includes numerous measures, some of which include a three-day waiting period on firearm purchases, raising the age to purchase assault weapons to 21, and limiting the size of ammunition magazines, while H454 would create a “red flag law” that would allow a judge to restrict someone’s access to a firearm if they’re deemed dangerous.

Cooper said he hoped a hearing on the bills would help the state “reach legislation that can help us keep guns out of the wrong hands.”

Cooper also said his administration is taking its own steps on gun safety, including the State Bureau of Investigation working to close gaps in reporting to the national database used for background checks, to work with other law enforcement agencies to better identify potentially dangerous people.

“In so many instances, these mass shootings, these shooters have sent many signals to people about what they may intend to do,” Cooper said.