Sen. Jim DeMint (left), Gov. Nikki Haley (center), Sen. Lindsey Graham (right) (Images: SC Governor's Office)
BY MARY ORNDORFF TROYAN
Gannett Washington Bureau
WASHINGTON - Gov. Nikki Haley's resistance to the 2010 federal health care reform law is strategically helpful for members of Congress working to undo President Barack Obama's signature first-term accomplishment, South Carolina's Republican senators said Wednesday.
Sens. Lindsey Graham and Jim DeMint defended Haley's refusal to create a health insurance exchange or to extend Medicaid benefits to an additional 344,000 South Carolina residents. Both are options under the Affordable Care Act, which the Supreme Court declared constitutional earlier this year.
"Let it be said that South Carolina's stand on exchanges and Medicaid expansion is going to allow us to revisit Obamacare," Graham said after meeting in his office with Haley and most other members of the South Carolina congressional delegation.
DeMint said he hopes Haley's opposition to the law's two key pieces is contagious.
"By doing this, South Carolina is helping us here bring this back into an open debate because if they don't change the bill or repeal it, it's going to fall just because of the way it's set up," DeMint said.
Haley formally notified the federal government two weeks ago the state won't create its own health care exchange, a marketplace for individuals and small businesses to comparison shop for health insurance plans.
Fifteen other states also have opted to let the federal government run their exchanges. Five plan to partner with the federal government on exchanges, and 18 are setting up their own, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.
"The federal government can have at it, but what we've found right now is that they have no plan and we are perfectly fine with that," Haley said to reporters in Graham's office on Capitol Hill.
The comments by Graham and DeMint defending Haley shows Republican resistance to the 2010 law is alive and well on Capitol Hill, despite the GOP's losses on Nov. 6.
When the Supreme Court ruled the law constitutional on June 28, it also allowed states to opt out of a provision extending Medicaid coverage to people earning up to 133 percent of the federal poverty level.
South Carolina and seven other states have said they will not expand eligibility, mostly out of concern it would be too expensive. The federal government would initially cover 100 percent of the cost for all new enrollees, but that would drop to 90 percent in later years.
"Our state is struggling now to meet the Medicaid match, and if they buy into the Obamacare model, there will be no money left in South Carolina for education or public safety," Graham said. "If you don't expand Medicaid, the whole theory of Obamacare has to be revisited."
A new report from the Kaiser Commission on Medicaid and the Uninsured found that if all states expand Medicaid eligibility, South Carolina would spend 7 percent more on the program through 2022, while federal Medicaid spending in the state would go up about 32 percent. The number of uninsured people in South Carolina would drop by 57 percent, the report estimated.
White House spokesman Jay Carney said Monday that repealing the Affordable Care Act is unlikely.
"The Supreme Court has spoken, the American people have spoken, congressional leaders of both parties have spoken, and we are continuing with implementation," Carney said.