COLUMBIA- The South Carolina Progressive Network is going door-to-door to persuade poor, uninsured voters to turn out in November to oppose Gov. Nikki Haley's refusal to expand Medicaid eligibility.
The network of activists launched the "Healthy Democracy Road Show" Thursday at the Statehouse. More than 176,000 registered voters in South Carolina would qualify for Medicaid if the state would approve the expansion as intended in the federal health care overhaul, and volunteers statewide are working to make sure they know that, said network director Brett Bursey.
The network cross-referenced census and state election data to create lists of uninsured voters who would qualify, he said.
"We found 176,000 registered voters who had their Medicaid card embezzled," he told about 50 supporters who gathered for the launch. "We're taking that message to the streets. I'll give you a list of people in your neighborhood. Let's tell 'em!"
Haley and the Legislature's Republican majority have repeatedly refused to expand Medicaid eligibility to more poor adults as the law intended. The federal law called for expanding eligibility to adults making up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level, including - for the first time - childless adults. But the U.S. Supreme Court made the expansion an option, rather than a mandate.
The state's refusal creates a coverage gap between those qualifying for Medicaid and those who make enough to qualify for subsidies toward purchasing insurance through the HealthCare.gov website.
Haley has remained steadfastly opposed. At the launch of her re-election campaign last August, Haley said, "When it came to Obamacare, we didn't just say 'no,' we said 'never."'
The Progressive Network is being more public about the issue than Haley's opponents. Bursey said activists aren't telling voters who to vote for, but they're given information about the law and asked to vote for a candidate who supports providing them health care.
Haley's Democratic opponent, state Sen. Vincent Sheheen, supports the expansion, saying Haley's political ideology shows a lack of leadership. But he's not broadcasting that message widely. Doing so in this red state would drive Republicans to the polls to vote against him, said political science professors from across the state who gathered at the University of South Carolina last week to talk about the governor's race.
"A Democrat talking about health care is like embracing cancer," said Clemson University professor Dave Woodard.
The Republican Governors Association already has run several TV ads against Sheheen tying him to the federal law.
Petition candidate Tom Ervin said Thursday he supports the expansion, particularly while the federal government pays the whole tab.
The federal government says it will pay 100 percent of medical expenses for newly qualified enrollees through 2017. The federal share would be reduced to 90 percent by 2020, with each state paying the balance.
Haley and other Republicans say the state can't afford that 10 percent, and it would be politically impossible to give the coverage temporarily and then jerk it away.
U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, an independent from Vermont, was among the speakers at the Progressive Network's launch.
He said the federal health care law was a step forward, but the ultimate goal should be a "Medicare for all" single-payer system.
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