The U.S. Supreme Court upheld “Obamacare” last year, but that’s not stopping a cohort of conservative lawmakers from trying to make it unconstitutional in South Carolina.
The state Senate could spend some of its last hours in session this year debating a bill that would nullify the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.
The proposed bill already passed the state House of Representatives in May.
It would prohibit and penalize individuals, companies and state agencies from enforcing the federal law if the law harms a person or business. It would also offer a tax break to any citizen who is penalized by the federal government for not enrolling in a health insurance plan, a requirement under the new federal law.
Sen. Sean Bennett, R-Summerville, unsure if he will support the nullification bill, said he is specifically concerned about its financial impact on the state.
“Is it ultimately going to pass before we get out of here? I can’t answer that,” Bennett said. The Legislature is scheduled to break for the year on Thursday. “There’s some very passionate arguments on both sides of the issue. That needs to be vetted. Anytime you can discuss those issues, that’s a good thing,” he said.
Gov. Nikki Haley’s spokesman evaded a question Tuesday about whether she will sign the bill into state law, given the chance.
“The governor has … been very clear about her priorities this session — blocking Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion, restructuring and ethics reform,” Haley spokesman Rob Godfrey wrote in a email. “The first is done, and it is now time for the Senate to finish the other two.”
Earlier this session, the Legislature blocked attempts to extend Medicaid to more South Carolina residents, a major provision of the Affordable Care Act.
The Supreme Court decided in its 2012 ruling that states aren’t obligated to accept federal money to participate in the expansion.
A study conducted by the RAND Corporation, published in the medical journal “Health Affairs” this week, found that 14 states, including South Carolina, that are officially opting out of the Medicaid expansion plan stand to lose a combined total $8.4 billion next year in federal aid next year.
Rozalynn Goodwin, a lobbyist for the South Carolina Hospital Association, said the state is giving up $700 million in 2014 by rejecting the expansion dollars.
The nullification bill, if signed into state law, will only end up costing South Carolina more money because the law will likely be challenged in court, she said.
“Even the proponents of this nullification deal realize it will cost the state more money to go to court over this,” Goodwin said. “It’s very disturbing to the hospital community that we’re even having this conversation over something that’s the law of the land.”
Meanwhile, state agencies that administer federal entitlement programs to the poor are making plans to comply with the federal health care law, not knowing the fate of the nullification bill in the Legislature. Many of the Affordable Care Act’s major reforms roll out on Jan. 1.
“There are a lot of mandates in there and we’ve got to follow the mandates,” said Tony Keck, director of the state’s Medicaid agency.
A spokeswoman for the state Department of Social Services said DSS is following the state Medicaid agency’s lead.
Editor’s Note: A previous version of this story contained an incorrect estimate for the federal dollars South Carolina will forfeit in 2014 for Medicaid expansion.
Reach Lauren Sausser at 937-5598.