updated Feb. 4
Walter Durst is afraid to get sick. The 60-year-old Columbia resident developed pneumonia while living on the streets for more than a year. After recurring trips to the emergency room and after suffering multiple relapses of pneumonia that permanently damaged his respiratory system, Durst applied for disability more than three years ago but was declared able to work under the condition that he could take 10-minute-long hourly breaks.
Having worked in retail, Durst said that condition isn’t realistic. “I just gave up,” he said Tuesday after a rally calling for state policy makers to expand health care.
Durst told part of his story at a Truthful Tuesday rally sponsored by a handful of groups including the S.C. Progressive Network, a coalition whose self-described mission is to promote social justice in S.C.
No longer homeless, Durst lives mainly on food stamps and on earnings from online memorabilia sales. But that’s not really enough to live on, he said. The only Medicaid Durst has qualified for falls under the category of family planning, a qualification he thinks is pointless, given his age.
The Progressive Network wants policy makers to expand Medicaid to more people like Durst. Dubbed Truthful Tuesday because activists say it’s dishonest for lawmakers and the governor to say the state can’t afford to expand health care, the rally was held outside the governor’s office.
Citing a study by the Moore School of Business at the University of South Carolina, the group’s executive director, Brett Bursey said the new jobs and increase in general funds expected to come from expanding Medicaid would put the state in the black.
Gov. Nikki Haley has said she won’t expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act and has praised lawmakers for joining her in saying no to expanding the federal matching program. That expansion would have covered approximately 200,000 in S.C. who are just shy of qualifying for Medicaid, but still lack affordable coverage.
Bursey said the group is calling the rally and movement Truthful Tuesday because it’s time for South Carolinians to hear the truth without being filtered through lobbyists and partisan politics. Critics of Gov. Nikki Haley’s refusal to expand Medicaid said the tea party electorate is putting up political roadblocks for politicians who are afraid for their jobs. “[They’re] afraid if they support the concept of government, they will lose elections,” said Bursey.