South Carolina does not plan to take any more federal funds as it tries to set up new insurance exchanges required by the health care reform law. The state joins five other Republican-led ones in saying they are uncomfortable about the possible strings attached.
Tony Keck is director of the state Department of Health & Human Services. He says the federal government has not given much information on how the exchanges will work.
“The rules and regulations… have just been trickling out of the federal Department of Health and Human Services,” Keck said, “As they’re pushing all the states to make decisions… they’re also far behind on making the rules and regulations.”
The exchanges are online marketplaces each state is responsible for setting up, where the uninsured can compare insurance plans from different companies and buy the plan that best fits their needs. It was the cornerstone of President Obama’s reform bill passed in 2009. A health planning committee is currently using a $1 million federal grant to come up with ways to best set up an exchange in South Carolina.
Governor Nikki Haley outraged many in the state when she announced South Carolina would not accept the federal funds offered to help set up those exchanges. The governor is opposed to the 2009 law, and believes South Carolina can create a better alternative.
Democrats accuse the governor of playing politics and not taking seriously the estimated 21 percent of South Carolinians under age 65 who are uninsured. “It’s pretty easy for somebody like her who’s got government-provided health care to say ‘I’m not going to help other people get theirs,”” State Sen. Brad Hutto (D-Orangeburg) said.
Keck did not rule out allowing the federal government to create the exchange itself. But he said South Carolina officials are hoping to partner with private companies to create a separate exchange that still meets the law’s standards. However, he says the problem is that states don’t know what those standards are, yet, even though the deadline for the exchanges to be running is 2014.
“It looks like, to me at least, that the federal government wants South Carolina and every other state to become the back office manager for the private insurance industry,” Keck said, “I’m not sure that’s a good use of state time and state resources to become paper-pushers for the federal government.”
But Hutto said South Carolina is risking its own taxpayer money by not pursuing the federal funds. “This is not tainted money,” he said, “This is South Carolina citizens’ tax money that is sitting in Washington, DC… If we don’t draw it down as it’s available to us, somebody in Nebraska will.”
However, Keck said he does not think South Carolina should scramble to meet a January 2013 deadline necessary to receive the federal money when officials do not know what the conditions of receiving that money will be. “States have a bad habit of chasing after any money that comes available instead of really chasing after their goals and objectives,” he said, “We don’t have the information… to make the decision about whether or not accept these dollars.”