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The N.C. Governor and Lt. Governor square off for the state’s top office. Gov. Roy Cooper and Lt. Gov. Dan Forest have very different health care plans for North Carolina in a race that’s considered a bellwether in a “purple” state. 

By Anne Blythe

Roy Cooper, Democrat, incumbent

Age: 63

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Political experience: Cooper was sworn in on Jan. 1, 2017, as North Carolina’s 75th governor. He served for 16 years as the state Attorney General before that, winning four consecutive four-year terms. Cooper also has served in the North Carolina General Assembly as a member of the state House of Representatives and the state Senate. In 1997, he was elected Democratic Majority Leader of the state Senate.

Education/personal: He holds B.A. and law degrees from the UNC Chapel Hill. Cooper was born in Nashville, North Carolina and grew up in Nash County. He is a lawyer who returned there to practice in his family’s law firm.

Dan Forest, Republican

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Age: 53

Political experience: Forest has been the North Carolina Lieutenant Governor since 2013. His campaign for statewide election to the office in 2012 was his first run for office.

Education/Personal: Forest was born in Harrisonburg, Virginia, and raised in Charlotte. He is an architect, who received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from UNC Charlotte.

Affordable Care Act

In 2017, Cooper issued a statement opposing the U.S. Senate’s proposal to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

“The latest proposal to repeal the Affordable Care Act may be even worse than previous proposals: raising premiums, weakening protections for people with pre-existing conditions, and slashing over $1 billion from North Carolina’s Medicaid program,” he said in the statement. “North Carolina’s middle-class families will be worse off if this passes.”

Cooper asked the federal Department of Health and Human Services to extend the ACA enrollment deadline in 2017 and voiced his frustration when the Trump administration said it no longer would make Cost Sharing Reductions under the federal program. The payments were intended to help offset the cost to insurers that offered affordable plans to low-income Americans. Trump also signed an executive order that opened the door for insurers to provide lower-cost plans with extremely high deductibles, often referred to as “junk” insurance.

Forest has spoken out against the Affordable Care Act. In September, Forest wrote in an op-ed that ran in the North State Journal: “It failed our country, broken promise after broken promise …”

Forest stated that his vision for health care would “provide better access for patients by incentivizing doctors to practice in our rural communities. I’ll work with the General Assembly and the state treasurer to ensure more price transparency, so citizens know how much prescription drugs and vital health services cost.”

“I’ll also fight to get those left in the coverage gap created by the Affordable Care Act on reliable private insurance,” Forest added in the op-ed.

Reproductive health issues

Cooper has been an advocate for a woman’s right to choose and has fought against abortion restrictions as the state attorney general and a state senator.

Last year, he vetoed a bill that could have made physicians subject to criminal charges if they failed to provide life-saving care to fetuses that survived attempts to terminate pregnancies late in term.

“Laws already protect newborn babies and this bill is an unnecessary interference between doctors and their patients,” Cooper said upon his veto. “This needless legislation would criminalize doctors and other health care providers for a practice that simply does not exist.”

Forest has been an outspoken pro-life advocate.

His website states: “Infants and newborns deserve protection in our state.  Governor Cooper has failed to protect the lives of babies born after failed abortions. North Carolina must protect those who cannot protect themselves.”

Medicaid expansion

Cooper has been a staunch advocate for Medicaid expansion and stated that no person in this state should have to choose between basic necessities and access to quality health care that saves lives.

As governor, he vetoed the General Assembly’s 2019 budget, in part because it did not include expanding Medicaid for some 500,000 low-income North Carolinians who could qualify for the federal aid but cannot get it because North Carolina Republican lawmakers have blocked attempts to do so.

Cooper has advocated for expansion as a revenue stream that could help save rural hospitals, create 40,000 jobs and boost the economy by $4 billion, at no additional cost to the state. Thirty-nine states have expanded Medicaid, including Indiana when Vice President Pence was governor.

Forest does not support expansion. “Governor Cooper wants to expand Medicaid by placing able-bodied men on the Medicaid rolls, without any work requirement,” the Forest campaign site states. “This policy would promote dependency on the government and is the wrong direction for North Carolina.”

Mask or no mask

During their only debate on Wednesday, Oct. 14, Cooper and Forest highlighted how different their stances are on masks and how different their responses would be to the coronavirus pandemic.

Cooper issued an executive order that calls for statewide mask use and has since pleaded for North Carolinians and visitors to the state to get behind face masks to slow the spread of COVID-19 in this state.

“This pandemic has taken thousands of North Carolinians from us too soon,” Cooper said. “It’s left people hurting and jobless and separated from their loved ones. But at every single point I have used science and data to make the tough decisions and there is no question that our strong action early and the persistence of North Carolinians has saved lives. When I mandated masks our cases leveled off. But then Dan Forest lied to the public and said, ‘Masks don’t work.’ He even sued me to stop our safety measures. Thank goodness, he lost.”

Forest has held campaign rallies indoors and outdoors where many people do not wear masks or maintain recommended physical distance measures.

“It should be of no surprise to anybody why Governor Cooper has spent tens of millions of dollars in negative ads against me during this campaign talking about masks,” Forest responded. “Masks is a great cover for what he really doesn’t want to talk about. The over million and a half people that he has left unemployed. The thousands of businesses that have been shut down. The thousands of businesses that will never reopen again. The suicide and addiction, drug addiction, alcohol addiction and anxiety, depression, you name it, that’s wreaking havoc on our state, all over from one end to the next.”

During the televised debate, Cooper responded that Forest was “ignoring science” and trying to “wish this pandemic away.” He echoed the CDC chairman’s words.

“I’ve always said it should be a personal responsibility choice,” Forest responded. “It doesn’t need to be a governor’s mandate. We don’t need a governor that treats us like 5-year-olds. We need a governor that does protect us, but not treat us like little kids. Masks aren’t the solution to everything.”

Then Forest went on to say “there are scientists and doctors all over the world right now that have come together under the Great Barrington Declaration” saying lock-down measures and masks are causing more harm than good.

“Really Dan, really?” Cooper shot back.”Masks don’t work? Scientists say they don’t? You’re finding that on the dark corners of the internet.”

Rural health care financing

Cooper has argued that Medicaid expansion would help rural hospitals by bringing an estimated $4 billion into North Carolina’s economy, creating more than 13,000 jobs in rural counties within five years and helping rural hospitals remain financially viable.

Forest has pointed to Cooper’s executive orders as the pressure point for rural health care.

“I’ll focus on providing better access for patients by encouraging doctors to practice in our rural communities,” Forest has said.