South Carolina House Democrats are continuing their push for South Carolina to expand the number of its citizens who are eligible for Medicaid benefits.
The expansion is an option under the Affordable Care Act. But South Carolina and several other Republicans-controlled states have refused to do it— expressing worries about the high potential expense to the state. Now, Democrats are asking the state to accept federal dollars for just the first three years— when the federal government would cover virtually the entire cost.
“If given the option to have health care for the next three years (even) if it potentially meant that in three years we may not have it, I think everyone…would take the option of having that health care,” House Minority Leader Rep. Todd Rutherford (D-Columbia) said at a press conference Monday.
Democrats are pushing the proposal as the House takes up the 2013-2014 budget this week.
However, Republican leaders are shooting down the idea, saying South Carolina would still be on the hook for up to nearly $2 billion in the six years after the full federal reimbursement ends in 2017. State Rep. Murrell Smith (R-Sumter) said South Carolina’s Medicaid budget is already growing rapidly even without the expansion. “That’s been one of the largest budget drivers over the last decade,” he told reporters shortly after the Democrats’ press conference, “We now spend more on Medicaid than we do on K-12 education.”
The state Department of Health and Human Services estimates South Carolina’s share of Medicaid expansion would cost anywhere from $613 million to $1.9 billion by 2020.
Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter (D-Orangeburg) asked Republicans to support a three-year test run and re-evaluate the program once the full federal reimbursement comes to an end. She complained that hospitals are still required to treat the hundreds of thousands of uninsured visits they receive. “We think what’s more unrealistic is to expect that we can continue to pass on the cost of care to insured people and shift the cost of care to businesses.”
But Smith said it was unrealistic to expect lawmakers to yank Medicaid coverage after three years. “I don’t think anyone expects for us to go three years, then drop it. The whole (Democratic) plan is to put our foot in the door and then continue going through.”
Smith said South Carolina will already be expanding health coverage because the Affordable Care Act sets up new health care exchanges for those without insurance.
Supporters tout a University of South Carolina study which estimated the $11.2 billion in additional federal spending under the expansion would indirectly create 44,000 new jobs for the state by 2020. But Republicans have dismissed the study because it was sponsored by the South Carolina Hospital Association— whose membership stands to benefit from the extra funds.