A bill that would raise the state’s lowest in the nation cigarette tax of 7 cents to 57 cents appears to be on a fast track for debate before the full House. $139 million of the $147 million raised from the proposed increase would go towards a new health insurance program for low wage South Carolina workers. House Speaker Bobby Harrell is the bill’s main sponsor and the measure has the support of House Minority Leader Harry Ott, but Richland County Democrat Joe Neal says the bill should be fine tuned to add more resources to the Medicaid fund for children and the elderly. Neal cites a recent study conducted in the state that indicates that those who are covered by Medicaid have reduced the cost of medical care of that covered group by 38 percent.
Neal says Medicaid helps persons access preventive care. “it catches illnesses before they become critical. It keeps people out of the emergency rooms where health care costs are highest, and it has reduced those costs by 38 percent. Now doesn’t it make good fiscal sense to try to get as many of our uncovered people under that as possible to keep them out of the emergency rooms to keep down costs?”
Neal says the key now is to help his legislative colleagues see the wisdom in putting more funds toward the medicaid Matching Funds Program.
Neal says South Carolina is a state that sends roughly a $186 million back to the federal government in unused Medicaid dollars.Neal says the state could have used those dollars to add more than 70-thousand children to the Medicaid rolls without adding one more dollar to the cost of taxes to state citizens.
“If we can cover 70-thousand plus more children with no additional costs failing to do that is irrational, because if these children become ill they will end up in our emergency rooms and it will cost the taxpayers of this state much, much more than Medicaid ever would because costs in the emergency room often quadruples and may rise even higher.”
Neal say about a fourth of the state’s population is on Medicaid, about 700-thousand persons have no health care coverage at all and that list is apparently growing as more people lose jobs and with it their health care coverage. Neal says as far as health care coverage is concerned, South Carolina is already at a crisis level.