Haley to speak at Medicaid conference


Gov. Nikki Haley, a vocal opponent of federal health care reform, is scheduled to speak at a national Medicaid conference in North Charleston on Monday morning in front of more than 1,000 Medicaid experts from across the country.

But her top health care adviser said she likely won’t address the biggest Medicaid debate of the year in South Carolina: why the state isn’t expanding the low income health insurance program under the Affordable Care Act, commonly called Obamacare.

“I doubt either of us are going to get into that,” said S.C. Medicaid Director Tony Keck, also scheduled to speak at the conference Monday.

“We generally talk about the same thing; health is more than just health services and health insurance,” he said.

Haley spokesman Doug Mayer confirmed the governor will discuss health care and South Carolina, but declined to provide details about her talking points.

The nonprofit Kaiser Family Foundation reports South Carolina is one of 22 states that has decided to opt out of the Medicaid expansion, available through the federal Affordable Care Act.

Starting next year, the law will help states pay to expand Medicaid eligibility to any low-income resident who earns up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level, a little less than $16,000 a year for a single adult.

Medicaid eligibility currently varies from state to state. In South Carolina, childless adults without a qualifying illness or disability are not eligible to receive Medicaid benefits, regardless of their poverty level.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2012 that expanding Medicaid is optional. States aren’t required to participate because each state must eventually chip in 10 percent of the expansion costs. The federal government has agreed to foot 100 percent of bill through 2017.

Michigan most recently announced it will expand its Medicaid program. Some states, including New Hampshire, are still debating the issue.

New census data estimates that about 364,000 South Carolinians would qualify for a Medicaid card if the state were to expand the program. About 1 million residents in the state already receive Medicaid benefits.

The issue could resurface in South Carolina when the General Assembly reconvenes in January.

It may also end up being an election year issue.

“The health care debate represents a fundamental difference between Nikki Haley and Vince Sheheen, our state’s biggest Obamacare cheerleader,” said Rob Godfrey, a spokesman for Haley’s re-election campaign. “Of course it will be an issue in this campaign.”

Sheheen, a Democrat who supports expanding Medicaid in South Carolina, is running against Haley next year.

“For as much as the governor’s team talks about politics of health care, we’d all be much better served and the state would be much better served if they would start listening a little bit more,” said Kristin Sosanie, a spokeswoman for the S.C. Democratic Party. “Sen. Sheheen’s position on Medicaid expansion is the right way to go.”

The Medicaid Enterprise Systems Conference, which runs through Thursday at the Charleston Area Convention Center, is expected to draw about 1,200 people from around the United States. It is held in a different city each year. Keck said the federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid asked South Carolina to host the 2013 event.

“It’s an honor for us to be picked,” he said. “It’s indicative that we have good relationships with our federal partners. We’ve worked really hard to make this a great conference.”

Reach Lauren Sausser at 937-5598.