Gov. Nikki Haley talks rising health care costs at Medicaid conference in North Charleston

Gov. Nikki Haley spoke at the national Medicaid conference in North Charleston on Monday morning at the Charleston Area Convention Center.

Gov. Nikki Haley told more than 1,000 health care experts Monday in North Charleston that rising health care costs, particularly Medicaid costs, in South Carolina and across the country are diverting money away from other top priorities.

“When we look at the growth of Medicaid and of health care costs in general, over the last 40 years, we’re seeing rises that we know we can’t sustain,” Haley said. “It’s crystal clear it’s unsustainable, and if we fail to fundamentally change the system, we will continue to have problems.”

The governor addressed the national Medicaid Enterprise Systems Conference in the morning. She is scheduled to attend an international car show in Germany later this week.

The Medicaid conference at the Charleston Area Convention Center has drawn about 1,200 people from around the country this week.

“Gov. Haley knows health care,” said S.C. Medicaid Director Tony Keck, who also addressed the conference Monday. “She doesn’t have a health care background, but she gets it. She understands that health is more than just health services. It’s more than just health insurance. It’s about jobs. It’s about education. It’s about strong families, strong communities.”

South Carolina is one of 22 states that will not expand its Medicaid program under the federal Affordable Care Act. The federal law will help states pay to expand Medicaid to anyone who earns up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level, about $15,800 a year for a single adult. In South Carolina, more than 300,000 residents would become eligible for a Medicaid card under the expansion plan, but the expansion is only optional. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2012 that states aren’t obligated to participate.

“All the governors had tough decisions,” Haley said during a press conference Monday. “We had to make a decision that we could sleep at night with. I’m very comfortable sleeping at night knowing we’re doing this at our pace and not at D.C.’s.

The Medicaid Enterprise Systems Conference runs through Thursday.

Reach Lauren Sausser at 937-5598.