Daugaard: No special session to consider Medicaid expansion

June 22, 2016 GMT

PIERRE, S.D. (AP) — Gov. Dennis Daugaard said Wednesday he won’t call a special session to consider Medicaid expansion, delaying potential legislative debate over opening the program to roughly 50,000 more residents past the November election and into 2017.

The Republican governor, who had floated the idea of a special session for months, heard from lawmakers who want more time to study the proposal and would like to wait until after the presidential election to consider it, Daugaard said in a statement.

The move is a blow to Democrats pushing expansion. Senate Minority Leader Billie Sutton said it would remain their top priority when lawmakers gather for the 2017 session.

“Medicaid coverage saves lives, so in the meantime, people are going to continue dying because we won’t expand Medicaid,” Sutton said, criticizing a “faction of extremely conservative individuals” unwilling to consider the plan.

Daugaard’s stance marks a departure from other GOP governors nationwide who have resisted expanding Medicaid as part of the federal health care overhaul.

He has proposed broadening eligibility for the health coverage program for low-income and disabled people, as long as the state’s share of the cost is covered by savings. Daugaard told The Associated Press last month that a federal move to take on more Medicaid costs for Native American enrollees would allow South Dakota to cut spending enough to offset expansion.

But Daugaard said then that he also had to weigh expansion’s chances of passing through the Republican-held Legislature.

“If there’s no possibility, then I’m not going to call a session and waste everyone’s time,” Daugaard said at the time.

The plan — which would require majority support in both legislative chambers — could face a lukewarm reception from Republicans. Outgoing House Republican leader Brian Gosch has said the majority of current House GOP lawmakers don’t support expansion.

Opposition group Americans for Prosperity-South Dakota was buoyed by Daugaard’s decision, State Director Ben Lee said. Expansion in other states has been a “disaster” with higher costs and more enrollees than anticipated, so it “borders on arrogance” to think that it could have been different in South Dakota, he said.

The intervening election means a new batch of lawmakers will head to Pierre next legislative session for the potential debate. Medicaid expansion will be alive for the 2017 session, but it’s “awfully early” to talk about what will be on the agenda, said Tony Venhuizen, chief of staff to Daugaard.

“We have a good plan that would increase health care access at no additional state cost and guarantee that the federal government won’t shift its responsibility to pay for Native American health care to the state,” Daugaard said in Wednesday’s statement.

The South Dakota Association of Health Care Organizations, a key backer of Medicaid expansion, said in a statement that it supports Daugaard’s decision to forego a special session and will continue to work with members and others to share the benefits of the proposal.