White House says Medicaid expansion in South Carolina would save lives

Conservative leaders in South Carolina will not expand Medicaid eligibility under Obamacare, even though the White House says it would save lives.

Medicaid expansion under Obamacare would save nearly 200 lives in South Carolina each year, a new White House report claims.

This “leaves no doubt that the consequences of states’ decisions are far-reaching, with major implications for the health of their citizens and their economies,” Jason Furman, chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, said in a news release about the report.

The federal health care law intended to expand eligibility for the low-income health insurance program to millions more Americans, but the U.S. Supreme Court decided three years ago that states could decline federal money to participate.

An unrelated Supreme Court ruling will determine this month if HealthCare.gov customers may use federal subsidies to lower the cost they pay for private insurance policies.

Gov. Nikki Haley’s office did not immediately respond to a question about the White House report on Thursday, but she has steadfastly opposed expanding Medicaid since the high court issued its 2012 ruling.

Twenty-one other states are also opting out of Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act.

An estimated 160,000 South Carolina residents would qualify for Medicaid next year if the state expanded the health insurance program, the White House report shows. Other reports push that estimate closer to 250,000.

The White House also projects an additional 23,300 people in South Carolina would get a cholesterol screening, 6,500 more women would get a mammogram and 9,700 more women would get cervical cancer screening next year if the state expanded Medicaid.

This access to the health care system would save 190 lives in South Carolina, the report said. By comparison, Medicaid expansion would prevent 900 deaths in Florida and 1,330 deaths in Texas.

Republicans in those states chose not to expand Medicaid either.

South Carolina’s economy stands to benefit from Medicaid expansion, too, the White House argued. The analysis shows 22 states that have not expanded Medicaid would receive an additional $29 billion in federal funds next year if they changed course.

Rozalynn Goodwin, vice president for community engagement for the S.C. Hospital Association, said this state will forfeit nearly $12 billion federal dollars available for Medicaid expansion between 2014 and 2020.

“Why would we not take these dollars? I think people are hearing that more,” Goodwin said. “I think it’s resounding with them that we’re sending those dollars to other states and not using them on our own citizens.”

The Hospital Association supports Medicaid expansion.

The S.C. Chamber of Commerce never took an official position on the issue, but Chamber President Ted Pitts implied that the White House report is biased.

“South Carolina should not read too much into a report commissioned by the federal government that says the federal government was right on the Affordable Care Act, especially in the early stages of some states expanding Medicaid,” said Pitts, who resigned as Haley’s chief of staff last year to lead the state Chamber of Commerce. “States should decide what is best for their state.”

South Carolina residents whose income falls below 138 percent of the federal poverty level — about $16,000 a year for a single adult or about $33,500 for a family of four — would qualify for Medicaid if this state participated in the expansion.

But Medicaid eligibility rules, as they stand, are very strict in South Carolina. Childless adults, with few exceptions, do not qualify for coverage, no matter how poor they are.

Still, more than 1 million people in South Carolina, most of them children, are already enrolled in a Medicaid plan. The program costs the state about $7 billion to administer each year, most of which is covered by the federal government.

Reach Lauren Sausser at 937-5598.