Politics & Government

S.C. residents, hospitals likely losers in Senate health-care bill, experts say

File photo, Palmetto Health Parkridge hospital
File photo, Palmetto Health Parkridge hospital Gerry Melendez

The health-care plan unveiled Thursday by U.S. Senate Republicans would hurt S.C. residents, some experts said.

If the proposal becomes law, the losers would include a quarter of S.C. residents – the 1.2 million of 4.8 million South Carolinians who get their health insurance through Medicaid.

S.C. taxpayers also could be hurt if the state has to pay more of the costs for Medicaid, the joint federal-state insurance program for the poor and disabled.

They aren’t alone, one health-care expert said Thursday.

“There are families – middle-income families in South Carolina – that in 18 months will get a call from their nursing home (saying): ‘You’ve got to come get Granny because we have no more Medicaid money, and we’re not keeping her,’ ” said Lynn Bailey, a Columbia-based health-care economist.

Like the U.S. House’s health-care proposal, the Senate plan proposes cutting federal spending on Medicaid. But Senate Republicans propose cutting far more – roughly $1 trillion more over 10 years.

To make up for lost federal money, South Carolina would have to spend more state taxpayer money on Medicaid, restrict enrollment to cut the number of South Carolinians eligible for Medicaid or cut the number of services that Medicaid pays for.

The likelihood of the state – which already underfunds a number of services, including education – picking up more of the tab for Medicaid is remote. “This is not good news for us,” Bailey said.

In addition, Bailey predicts roughly a dozen S.C. hospitals will close if the Senate GOP plan becomes law. Those hospitals would be put out of business by lower Medicaid payments.

“South Carolina will start out with a bad deal and it will just go from bad to worse,” said Sue Berkowitz of S.C. Appleseed, which advocates for low-income South Carolinians. “It’s going to cost a lot of people health care and, for some people, their lives.”

The Congressional Budget Office projected the House health-care plan would cost South Carolina $2 billion over the next 10 years, Berkowitz said, estimating the Senate plan could cost even more.

However, some S.C. Republicans say the GOP proposals are not bad for South Carolina.

“The goal of a lot of the reform discussion has been trying to allow states to be more innovative in their delivery of dollars for the Medicaid system,” said state Rep. Murrell Smith, the Sumter Republican who chairs a panel that decides state health-care spending.

The Republican health-care plans propose giving states more power to manage their Medicaid programs, instead of policy being set in Washington, Smith said. “I don’t necessarily see this as the sky is falling,” Smith said. “I see this as an opportunity for us to be freed up.”

Cassie Cope: 803-771-8657, @cassielcope

Medicaid in S.C.

1.2 million: Almost 1 in 4 of South Carolina’s 4.8 million residents are on Medicaid, the federal-state insurance program for the poor and disabled

640,924: S.C. children are covered, more than half of the South Carolinians on Medicaid

84,803: Elderly South Carolinians make up 7 percent of those in the program; they are the most expensive to cover

124,829: Disabled adults make up 10 percent of the S.C. program

363,924: Other adults make up 30 percent of the program

47 percent: Growth in the number of South Carolinians on Medicaid from 2010-16

SOURCE: S.C. Department of Health and Human Services, Kaiser Family Foundation