A bipartisan group of state senators is taking a new tack in their efforts to expand Medicaid eligibility in South Carolina.
In a Tuesday press conference, the senators announced their intentions to offer a budget amendment that would establish “Healthy SC,” and a private option form of Medicaid expansion to uninsured South Carolinians. Two Republican senators Ray Cleary, R-Georgetown, and Paul Campbell, R-Berkeley, joined Democrats in pushing for the bill.
“As opposed to putting everything through the Medicaid system, we’re basically allowing the population to buy insurance and have Medicaid pay for it,” Lourie told South Carolina Radio Network. “So they’ll have private insurance policies just like you and me.”
This private option would use federal dollars to help lower income individuals purchase insurance through the marketplace. These are individuals who fall in what’s known as “the coverage gap.” They are not eligible for traditional Medicaid, but also don’t earn enough income to be eligible for current healthcare subsidies that are meant to make health insurance more affordable. Senators cited current estimates of roughly 194,000 South Carolinians who fall in this gap.
The idea is based off similar programs in Arkansas and Kentucky, which also initially resisted expanding Medicaid eligibility under the Affordable Care Act (ACA). South Carolina Republican leaders have said the program is too expensive in the long-term, particularly as the number of people on the state’s Medicaid rolls has been growing significantly even under the current requirements.
Governor Nikki Haley has already said she is against the latest proposal.
Democratic lawmakers have pushed Medicaid expansion for years, joining with the South Carolina Hospital Association to argue that it will help save money by keeping uninsured patients out of emergency rooms. However, the measures have usually failed in the Republican-controlled Statehouse.
Cleary, a dentist who has long supported expansion, said he believes South Carolina should at least look into the idea. “I don’t have all the answers right now,” he said during Tuesday’s press conference. “But my opinion is we’re up here, we’re elected to study the issues before we make a decision. Unfortunately, we have people that are willing to make the decision before they even know the issue.”
The federal government would cover the program’s entire cost for the next two years as part of the ACA. Starting in 2017, South Carolina would be required to pay a gradually larger share of the program until it reaches 10 percent of costs by 2021. Lourie appealed for state leaders to take advantage of the two free years.
“We will eventually cover it,” he told reporters after the press conference.”Will we be the last state? I hope not. I pray not. Why would we turn down the federal dollars right now? This is not a time for political rhetoric… the law is what the law is. We’ve got 194,000 people that are falling through the cracks.”