S Carolina Democrats want Medicaid expansion; GOP says no

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — Democratic state senators said a sweeter offer from Congress ought to be enough to get South Carolina to join 38 other states and expand Medicaid to about 200,000 more people.

But Republicans in South Carolina said the extra money for two years still isn’t enough for them to feel confident about expanding the government-run health insurance program to more people.

Senate Democrats held a news conference Tuesday to tout the offer made in the nearly $2 trillion coronavirus relief package passed earlier this month.

The federal government would pay 95% of the state’s total Medicaid expenses for two years instead of the 70% it currently pays. That would mean South Carolina would gain about $600 million from existing people on Medicaid, according to the nonprofit Kaiser Family Foundation.

Democrats said expanding Medicaid would come back in billons of dollars in growth in the health care industry and more people willing to work and in savings from people having insurance so they go for care before a problem becomes catastrophic and expensive and many times can’t afford the massive bill.

“We have people in South Carolina who don’t want to incur the bill if they can’t pay their bills,” said Sen. Ronnie Sabb, a Democrat from Greeleyville.

One person — Gov. Henry McMaster — can decide to take the money. His answer remains no.

The Republican governor said the short-term gain would get obliterated by long-term losses as the federal help disappears.

“The way to good health is good employment, good education,” McMaster said Tuesday as he announced spending $6 million in federal COVID-19 relief on eight computer labs across the state as part of a sponsorship with Apple Inc.

Congress first offered the match in 2010 as part of then-President Barack Obama’s massive overhaul of health insurance. Thirty-six states have taken the offer, with Missouri and Oklahoma scheduled to follow soon.

In those two states, Medicaid expansion won a popular vote. That is not an option in South Carolina. Either the governor agrees to it, or the currently Republican dominated Legislature makes him sign for it.

The federal plan is right now paying 90% to expand Medicaid to about an additional 190,000 adults who make too much to qualify for traditional Medicaid programs, but also don’t make enough to buy subsidized private coverage on the health insurance marketplaces established in the 2010 overhaul. South Carolina currently gets a 70% match for Medicaid.

Democrats said expanding Medicaid would mean more health care jobs because the new people on the plan would seek preventative care. It could also stem the tide of rural hospitals closing and doctors leaving small towns.

“This is the best economic development deal I’ve ever seen in this state,” said Sen. Dick Harpootlian, D-Columbia. “It’s better than BMW. It’s better than Boeing.”


Follow Jeffrey Collins on Twitter at https://twitter.com/JSCollinsAP.