The Buzz

SC senators to introduce plan to insure nearly 200,000 working poor


A bipartisan group of South Carolina senators will introduce a proposal Tuesday to allow about 194,000 uninsured state residents to use federal and state dollars to buy private health insurance.

“It’s an opportunity to provide health care to close to 200,000 South Carolinians who have no health insurance and whose primary source of provider services (otherwise) is going to the ER (emergency room) when they get sick,” said state Sen. Joel Lourie, D-Richland, one of four sponsors of the proposal.

Previous attempts to expand the federal-state insurance program for the poor in South Carolina, as part of the federal Affordable Care Act, have failed. And Republican Gov. Nikki Haley repeated Monday that she would fight the latest Senate attempt as well.

The senators’ proposal would cover the working poor, those who make too much to be eligible now for Medicaid insurance for the poor but cannot afford to buy health insurance.

“They are too rich to qualify for our existing Medicaid program, but they are too poor to qualify for subsidies in the marketplace,” said Rozalynn Goodwin of the S.C. Hospital Association.

Other supporters of the Senate proposal include Sens. Paul Campbell, R-Berkeley; Ray Cleary, R-Georgetown; and John Matthews, D-Orangeburg.

The senators plan to amend the state budget to direct the state Department of Health and Human Services to submit a plan to the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to create Healthy SC, said Coretta Bedsole, the AARP’s associate state director for advocacy.

That program would use federal dollars and matching state dollars to allow adults earning about $15,000 a year or less to buy private insurance in the federal health care marketplace, she said.

In South Carolina, adults who are not disabled and earn $15,000 or less now are not eligible for Medicaid, with a few exceptions. Parents of young children are eligible for Medicaid if their income is about $7,000 or less, and pregnant women are eligible if their income is about $23,000 or less.

Republican Haley opposes expanding Medicaid, saying taking federal money to expand the program eventually would lead to an unfunded mandate for the state’s taxpayers.

“Gov. Haley has been fighting to turn back Obamacare since she took office – because it’s a budget-busting, job-killing disaster – and no matter how many times legislators reintroduce it, she will keep fighting it because its bad for our state,” said spokeswoman Chaney Adams.

Lourie said the program’s cost will be discussed Tuesday at a State House news conference.

Twenty-nine states have expanded Medicaid eligibility in some way. If the Senate proposal becomes reality – unlikely because of the opposition of most members of the GOP-controlled General Assembly and Gov. Haley – South Carolina would follow Arkansas, Iowa and New Hampshire in using Medicaid dollars to allow the poor to buy private insurance policies.

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that states cannot be forced to expand their Medicaid program, as envisioned in Obamacare. However, that ruling exposed a gap between the poor – covered by Medicaid – and members of the working poor – who could not afford coverage without federal and state subsidies.

“In many cases these individuals are working but too poor to go into the marketplace and receive the current federal subsidies,” Bedsole said, adding those affected include seasonal workers, workers in the hospitality industry and hourly wage workers.

The state’s veterans also are among those who would benefit from expanding Medicaid, Bedsole said.

In South Carolina, 17,900 military veterans don’t have health insurance, and another 8,800 veterans are underserved, according to the AARP. They would be eligible for coverage under the senators’ proposal, Bedsole said.

The Hospital Association’s Goodwin said all South Carolinians have a stake in expanding insurance coverage in the state.

When uninsured South Carolinians use hospital emergency rooms for their medical care, all taxpayers and residents with insurance pick up the tab, she said. “It’s a hidden tax that’s passed on to the rest of the state.”

Reach Cope at (803) 771-8657.

Healthy SC?

A bipartisan group of state senators will announce a plan Tuesday to use federal and state dollars to allow uninsured S.C. residents to buy health insurance under a program they call Healthy SC. They say their proposal would provide coverage for 194,000 S.C. residents who cannot afford health insurance now but make too much to be covered by Medicaid insurance for the poor.

Who: Sens. Paul Campbell, R- Berkeley; Ray Cleary, R-Georgetown; Joel Lourie, D-Richland; and John Matthews, D-Orangeburg

When: 11:30 a.m. Tuesday

Where: First floor, State House lobby