SC GOP kills attempt to expand Medicaid

02/19/2013 12:17 PM

02/20/2013 2:40 PM

House Republicans killed the first of several expected attempts to expand Medicaid in South Carolina Tuesday but promised to reveal their “Plan B” today.

House Ways and Means Committee chairman Brian White, R-Anderson, said the Republican alternative will not expand Medicaid – the joint federal-state health insurance program for the poor and disabled – but will focus on South Carolina’s “core problem.”

The Affordable Care Act, commonly referred to as Obamacare, allows states to expand Medicaid coverage to anyone earning less than 138 percent of the federal poverty level, or about $15,000. Republican Gov. Nikki Haley and her appointed director of the Department of Health and Human Services oppose the expansion, arguing it is too expensive and won’t solve the state’s health problems.

Democrats support expansion, saying it would help the poor. Tuesday, Democrats on the House budget committee proposed funding the Medicaid expansion for a year. But Republicans, who control the House, defeated that proposal. State Rep. Murrell Smith, R-Sumter, argued lawmakers need to focus instead on a long-term solution to health-care funding.

Democrats did push through a budget proposal that would require the state to ask for permission to expand Medicaid – even though it would not require the state to pay for that expansion.

Unless Medicaid is expanded, state Rep. Harry Ott, D-Calhoun, said childless S.C. adults who are not disabled and make less than 100 percent of the federal poverty level – about 185,000 people – would be in a health insurance no-man’s land. They would not qualify for Medicaid or federally subsidized insurance programs, Ott said.

The committee approved a proposal that would require South Carolina to ask the federal government for a waiver so Medicaid could cover those residents. House Republicans did not oppose the proposal, but Smith was quick to point out that even if the state has permission to expand Medicaid, that does not mean it would do so.

Also on Tuesday:

•  Lawmakers took $80 million from state funding of local governments and gave $40 million of that money to pay the cost of repairing roads and bridges. Democrats complained the move could cause local governments to raise taxes, but Republicans said paying for roads was a core function of government. “I don’t rate roads over people,” replied state Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter, D-Orangeburg.
•  With the Newtown school massacre in mind, lawmakers said before any school district can spend state money, it must first meet with law enforcement agencies to “ensure that the district has an updated school safety plan.”
•  Lawmakers said Gov. Nikki Haley’s office would have to pay for any fees for “public relations, consulting and legal services in the aftermath of the Department of Revenue data security breach.” That tab is about $1.25 million.

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