By Robert Kittle
Democrats in the South Carolina House of Representatives started the second week of the legislative session by urging Republicans to accept Medicaid expansion that's part of the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. They say it's common sense to accept expansion because the federal government will pay 100 percent of the cost for the first three years and 90 percent after that.
If the state doesn't expand Medicaid? "The federal government is simply going to use that money to pay for the health care of other people in this country outside of South Carolina," says Rep. Todd Rutherford, D-Columbia, House minority leader. "I do not believe our Republican friends are willing to have our tax dollars go to insure people in other states."
He says about 250,000 South Carolinians who don't currently have health insurance would be covered under the Medicaid expansion. One of those is Kershaw Loynes, a mother of four boys, one of which is serving in the U.S. Army.
Her other three sons are already on Medicaid, but she has no health insurance. "I work two jobs. I work 60 hours a week. On both jobs I make $10. So I'm not eligible, but I really do need health insurance, because my family, there's a history of ovarian cancer," she says. "I don't want entitlements. I don't want handouts. I just want opportunities for myself and for my children."
Republicans in the state House and Senate are against expanding Medicaid, though, even with the federal money being offered. Rep. Bruce Bannister, R-Greenville, House majority leader, says, "What the expansion of Medicaid will do is obligate us to cover folks, and over the next ten years it'll be about a billion dollars of South Carolina additional tax revenue that will go to that expansion. What other things will we have to cut or what taxes will we have to raise to cover the state's obligation?"
Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter, D-Orangeburg, says, "What we would say in response to that is we pay for it just like we do all of our other priorities. We figure out a way to pay for those things that we feel are important."
The Democrats say expanding Medicaid would also create 44,000 new jobs. Loynes thinks it would save the state money in the long run, because preventing health problems through regular doctor visits would be cheaper than people without insurance going to the emergency room or waiting until they're extremely sick or dying.
But Republicans say the cost of expansion is just too high, and there's no guarantee that the federal government would actually pay the full cost for three years, since all the talk in Washington now is about how to cut spending.