The U.S. Supreme Court in its recent review of the new health care law, ruled that states can’t be forced to expand Medicaid with the threat of losing their current Medicaid money. This makes it easy for states to opt out of a planned Medicaid expansion — increasing coverage to everyone up to 138 percent of the poverty line. Among those governors announcing they would opt out is South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley.
Attorney Sue Berkowitz is director of the South Carolina Appleseed Legal Justice Center, an advocacy group for issues affecting low-income South Carolinians. She views the ruling as a setback. After the governor said that the state cannot afford to expand Medicaid, Berkowitz says the state can’t afford not to participate and the healthcare exchanges scheduled to begin in 2014 will help.
“Probably a little more than one-third of the people who would go on to the Medicaid program in 2014 are already eligible for Medicaid. The reason they’re not getting it is that we put so many barriers up and keep them from going on (the program). With these exchanges it will make it easier for them to find their way onto Medicaid.”
Berkowitz says creating a market where healthcare is more accessible will also work to make healthcare more affordable. “For the people who get on the program through expansion, the federal government will pay 100 percent for the first three years then slowly ratchet it down. As more people are getting healthcare coverage, hopefully the cost will go down,” she says.
Berkowitz says the key to expanding Medicaid is making healthcare available to more people in need and including preventive care services: “Their care for their diabetes and their high blood pressure, or if they get in an accident they can get assistance so they can get healthy, that keeps them strong and viable for the workforce.”
Berkowitz hopes that when members of the General Assembly will see that expanding Medicaid will level the playing field and that they will push for expansion. She says that will lead to a healthier, more vibrant pool of workers prepared and fit to participate in growing the economy in South Carolina.
“How it allows the lowest income people in our state have access to healthcare so they can work and small businesses don’t have to worry about covering them which they’re not now; we really will see improvements in our workforce and out health outcomes.”