the state house

Dueling rallies to greet returning S.C. legislators

abeam@thestate.comJanuary 13, 2014 

TRACY GLANTZ

At noon Tuesday – as House and Senate leaders bang their gavels for the first time in 2014 – S.C. progressive leaders will place a coffin on the State House steps, representing the 1,400 people who they say will die this year because South Carolina did not expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act.

Meanwhile, several hundred conservative activists are expected to cram the State House lobby to pressure state senators to pass a law that would restrict the “horrors of Obamacare,” as state Sen. Lee Bright puts it.

While the federal Affordable Care Act is the law of the land – having survived a Supreme Court challenge and massive technical glitches that marred its October rollout – the battle over its implementation still is raging at the State House, where lawmakers return for what is expected to be an emotional, contentious session preceding next fall’s elections.

That emotion will be on display with a pair of competing State House rallies that will feature two politicians running for the U.S. Senate: Bright, who is challenging U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., in June’s Republican primary, and Jay Stamper, a Democrat running for Graham’s seat.

“Both groups want the same exact thing: We want the best health care for South Carolinians and the cheapest, the most affordable and the most quality care,” said Jesse Graston, a conservative activist helping organize the anti-Obamacare rally. “We part from there on how to achieve that. They advocate taking from others to take care of the poor, and we believe in taking responsibility for yourself to take care of others.”

Progressive activists from across the state will hold what they hope is the first of several “Truthful Tuesday” rallies, modeled after the “Moral Monday” protests in North Carolina that garnered national attention last year after the GOP takeover of that state’s General Assembly. More than 900 protesters were arrested over several months.

“Whatever North Carolina has done in terms of advocating for moral and ethical laws, our state needs to do the same thing,” said the Rev. Brenda Kneece, executive minister of the S.C. Christian Action Council, which represents 16 denominations and 4,000 congregations. “This rally on Tuesday ... is the opening day of the (legislative session), and we want on that day to speak truth to power.”

One of the “truths” Kneece and others will tout is a Harvard School of Public Health study that concluded one death could be prevented for every 176 people covered by Medicaid. Using that study, Robert Oldendick – executive director of the USC Institute for Public Service and Policy Research – said expanding Medicaid in South Carolina would have prevented or delayed about 1,400 deaths a year.

“People who need care can’t get care,” said state Rep. Joe Neal, D-Richland. “Guess what? They die.”

But Tony Keck, director of South Carolina’s Medicaid program, said the study is “often misread,” adding, “Only one of the three (states, New York, that researchers looked at) had a statistically significant reduction in mortality. So, actually, two states had no change. ...

“There are many, many things that help improve lives,” said Keck, an appointee of Republican Gov. Nikki Haley. “The question is: Where do you spend your money? If what drives health the most in a state is income, education, personal choices – and you’re spending more money on health-care services than you are on these other things, you get in this spiral.”

Bright, who is running for the U.S. Senate, is one of the featured speakers for the “Choose Freedom, Stop Obamacare” rally, scheduled for 10 a.m. on the State House’s north steps.

He dismissed Neal’s concerns about people dying because South Carolina did not expand Medicaid.

“All the Democrat Party really has to promote is fear. They’ve been promoting it since Lyndon Johnson declared war on poverty. It, obviously, accomplished nothing,” Bright said. “If we would let the doctors and patients inter-act more and take the government out of the equation, I think doctors and patients in South Carolina would be better off.”

Reach Beam at (803) 386-7038.

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