COLUMBIA — Several organizations urged South Carolina lawmakers on Tuesday to expand Medicaid rolls in the state despite objections from Gov. Nikki Haley.
Health care advocates held a series of events in Columbia arguing that Medicaid expansion is an investment in the economy, the health of its people, and will also boost jobs.
“People with access to health care are healthier and more productive,” said Lathran Woodard of the South Carolina Primary Care Association.
The federal-state program covers the poor and children, seniors living at home or in nursing homes, and those with disabilities.
In the New Year, members of the General Assembly will consider whether to expand the program to include more low-income adults. The new health care law gives states that option, and offers to pay for it through 2016, then pick up 95 percent of the cost through 2019 and 90 percent thereafter.
Haley and her Medicaid director Tony Keck say the state can't afford to pay for the match and they want to opt out of any expansion. Keck has said he thinks the money is better spent on figuring out ways to help people stay healthy and reduce health care costs rather than going toward insurance and the mechanics of paying for care.
Advocates held a Statehouse news conference touting the coalition under the title “Accept ME SC,” as a rallying cry for Accept Medicaid Expansion South Carolina.
There are 22 groups signed on to advocate for the expansion, including the state organizations for the AARP, the League of Women Voters, the American Heart Association, the March of Dimes, the NAACP, the Appleseed Legal Justice Center, the Primary Health Care Association and the United Way Association.
The group says more than 329,000 people in the state earn less than $15,000 a year and don't have health insurance.
Expansion would cover more working adults and families. The organization argues that if expansion isn't accepted, the costs would fall on the state's hospitals or other health care providers, and threaten hospitals with closure.
The South Carolina Hospital Association has said a study by the University of South Carolina's Moore School of Business finds that expansion would create about 44,000 jobs by 2020.
The group said the new jobs would add an estimated $1.5 billion in labor income and $3.3 billion in economic activity by 2020.
“Accepting the expansion would be a good deal for South Carolinians,” Charles Beaman, Jr, chairman of the hospital association, said in a statement. “Having health insurance makes a difference for individuals and families, and these benefits are shared by the business community through a strong, healthy workforce.”