February 6, 2013

SC political briefs: State Medicaid agency doesn’t ask for expansion funds

“I didn’t hear any indication in your budget request for funds for the expansion of Medicaid,” Ott said. “We need to talk about that Mr. Keck.”

At the end of Health and Human Service director Tony Keck lengthy budget presentation Tuesday to the House Ways and Means Healthcare subcommittee, Rep. Harry Ott pointed out the obvious.

“I didn’t hear any indication in your budget request for funds for the expansion of Medicaid,” Ott said. “We need to talk about that Mr. Keck.”

He pressed Keck on how accepting a 9-to-1 match of federal dollars to state dollars to ensure medical coverage for hundreds of thousands of people under the Affordable Care Act was a bad choice.

“When you look at the money we are spending and would have to spend on health insurance and the outcomes we would get, it’s a bad decision,” said Keck, whose agency handles Medicaid for the state.

Despite the expanding of public health care dollars in recent years, the country is growing less healthy, a sign that insurance isn’t the answer, Keck said.

“So you think access to less care is the answer?” Ott responded.

The testy by-play was typical of a two-hour budget session during which Keck asked for a $6.475 billion budget for fiscal year 2014. Most of the funds come from the federal government, but the $123 million in state funds requested represent a 6.6 percent increase from 2013.

Medicaid expansion was the elephant in the room filled with dozens of hospital executives and health advocates wearing Accept ME SC stickers. After Keck’s presentation, the hospital execs came to the podium one after another to urge the state to expand Medicaid in 2014.

During negotiations to set up the Affordable Care Act, hospitals agreed to cuts in federal payments for treating the uninsured in return for backing the ACA because it would provide insurance for nearly everyone. But the U.S. Supreme Court ruling last summer allowing states to opt out of Medicaid expansion changed that equation.

“There really should be no politics or limited politics when it comes to patient care,” said Jay Cox, president and CEO of Toumey Healthcare System. “The poor will continue to come to the emergency room.”

Joey Holleman

Bill says sweepstakes machines are gambling devices

A bill specifying that sweepstakes machines are illegal gambling is advancing in the South Carolina House.

The Judiciary Committee voted Tuesday to move the bill to the House floor. The Senate approved the measure last month.

The bill is designed to close any loophole business owners cite to operate so-called sweepstakes cafes.

State Law Enforcement Division Chief Mark Keel says the law would make it clear to local judges that the machines are illegal.

Magistrates have issued conflicting rulings.

S.C. banned video gambling in 2000. Keel and other law enforcement officers say the new machines violate that prohibition.

Supporters liken them to contests offered by stores and even McDonald’s. They sell products such as long-distance phone cards, then offer customers a chance for prizes.

The Associated Press

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