Medicaid expansion advocates prepare for 2022 ballot push

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) — The South Dakota attorney general on Friday filed explanations for a pair of 2022 ballot measures that would expand federal Medicaid eligibility in the state.

Supporters of the measures will need to gather thousands of signatures to get a pair of items on the November 2022 general election ballot. Both proposals, which are sponsored by former Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Rick Weiland, aim to make Medicaid health insurance available to people who live below 133% of the federal poverty level, which is currently about $17,000 for an individual or $35,000 for a family of four.

Weiland emphasized that he hopes to build a bipartisan coalition around the issue. South Dakota is one of 13 states that has not expanded Medicaid under the 2010 federal Affordable Care Act.

Former Gov. Dennis Daugaard, a Republican, favored expansion, but he abandoned the proposal after President Donald Trump’s election. As Republican-held legislatures have resisted making more people eligible for the social program, advocates have turned to ballot measures. Earlier this month, Oklahoma voters became the first to pass a constitutional amendment to expand Medicaid.

Weiland is sponsoring an initiated measure, which would force the Legislature to pass Medicaid expansion, and a constitutional measure that would be protected from legislators dismantling the law in the future. He will have until November of next year to gather nearly 17,000 signatures for the initiated ballot measure and almost 34,000 signatures for the proposed constitutional amendment.

“We have a lot of citizens in our state that simply do not have health insurance,” Weiland said. “This will affects tens of thousands of our fellow South Dakotans.”

Americans for Prosperity, a free-market lobbying group that is influential in South Dakota, has opposed Medicaid expansion in the past, arguing that it is costly and inefficient.

Weiland said the coronavirus pandemic has shown the need for broader health care coverage.

The attorney general’s office is required to write explanations for all ballot measures, but it is not an endorsement for or against the proposal.