Most South Carolina adults interviewed for a new poll think the state government should expand Medicaid eligibility to include more low-income residents.

What is Medicaid expansion?

There’s nothing new about Medicaid — the health insurance program for low-income Americans has been around since 1965.

The reason it’s such a hot topic these days is because South Carolina — and every other state in the country — is considering significantly expanding Medicaid coverage to more residents.

Details about the expansion are laid out in the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act — commonly called the Affordable Care Act or “Obamacare.”

The federal government has agreed to pay for more residents to enroll with the intention that Medicaid coverage will improve their health and reduce the cost of health care.

But the program isn’t free. State governments will be required to eventually fund 10 percent of the program. The federal government will fund 100 percent of the expansion during the first three years and will continue to fund 90 percent of the costs.

But states have a choice here. South Carolina can decide whether to participate in the expansion because the Supreme Court ruled last year that the program isn’t mandatory.

Many South Carolina lawmakers, including Gov. Nikki Haley, have said the state won’t be a part of it because Medicaid is too expensive and won’t solve the state’s health problems.

Currently about 1.1 million South Carolinians are enrolled in Medicaid. The S.C. Department of Health and Human Services estimates 344,000 new residents would be eligible if the state chose to participate in the expansion.

Lauren Sausser

The poll was commissioned by AARP, a group in favor of expanding Medicaid in South Carolina under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. A statement about the poll was published Tuesday on AARP’s website, but the full results have not been released.

By the numbers

Some results from a poll of South Carolinians 45 and older:

70 percent

said Medicaid is “very to extremely important” compared with other government programs

57 percent

of 45- to 64-year-olds disagree with Gov. Nikki Haley’s decision to opt out of Medicaid expansion

54 percent

are in favor of Medicaid expansion

90 percent

have some type of health care coverage

Source: AARP

It found that 54 percent of 800 adults polled in February favor Medicaid expansion and 57 percent disagree with Gov. Nikki Haley’s decision to decline federal money to accomplish that. All of the adults included in the survey were 45 and older.

South Carolina has a choice to opt out of the expansion because the state would eventually need to pay for part of it — 10 percent of the costs by 2020. The federal government would fully fund Medicaid expansion for three years and at a minimum of 90 percent after that.

“The federal government likes to wave around a $9 match like it is some silver bullet, some extraordinary benefit that we cannot pass up. But what good do the nine dollars do us when we can’t come up with the one?” Haley said in January during her State of the State address.

Republican lawmakers in Columbia are following the governor’s lead.

The House of Representatives’ budget writing committee passed a proposal in February that would infuse millions of state and federal dollars into programs designed to make South Carolinians healthier — without expanding Medicaid.

Forty-three percent of the adults polled by AARP identified themselves as conservative voters; 31 percent were moderate; 8 percent were liberal and 19 percent identified as “other.”

Responding to a question about Medicaid expansion posed on, Facebook users are split on the issue.

Dustin Ryan wrote, “Who is going to pay for it? The federal government is broke and our state is in debt.”

Anita McGlothlin Gibson wrote she is “absolutely” in favor of expansion.

“It is a crying shame that people who have worked for years and years have suddenly found themselves without jobs or insurance and are now having to survive through this means,” she wrote.

More than 20 states, some with Republican governors, have decided to participate in the expansion, but Alex Stroman, executive director of the S.C. Republican Party, said Haley and state leaders will decide what is best for South Carolina residents.

“The governor is leading on this,” Stroman said. “The members of the General Assembly are also making sure we are addressing the real issue.”

Reach Lauren Sausser at 937-5598.