Irresponsible. Selfish. Cold-hearted.
These are a few adjectives Brett Bursey found when he reached for a description of what the GOP-led state legislature and governor’s office have done by refusing to expand Medicaid to include more of the state’s neediest.
Republican Gov. Nikki Haley, backed by state Republican leaders, has refused to accept Medicaid expansion for adults under age 65 who are living up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level—approximately $32,000 annually for a family of four.
In response the South Carolina Progressive Network, a social justice group headed by Bursey, is taking its Healthy Democracy campaign on the road to target more than 176,000 registered voters who are left without coverage.
The group kicked off its road show last August in Columbia. “We want to talk to working class people who have been hurt by this policy,” he said by phone Monday.
Democratic challenger for Haley’s seat, state Sen. Vincent Sheheen has said South Carolina should expand the program. Haley beat Sheheen in 2010 by approximately 59,000 votes.
Bursey said it’s disingenuous for Republicans to say the state can’t afford it.
The federal government is picking up the tab for the first three years for states expanding the program. By 2020 states will pay for 10 percent of the expansion, costing South Carolina at least $635 million if it were to take the money. Costs could reach $1.9 billion when accounting for increased enrollment, according to some estimates.
The federal government’s share of costs in South Carolina would come to $11 billion by 2020.
Proponents of expansion frequently cite the University of South Carolina’s Moore School of Business study that estimates 44,000 new jobs would result from Medicaid expansion. But state Health and Human Services director, Tony Keck finds the study flawed. In an interview last spring, he pointed out that the study fails to account for alternative uses for the funds and overlooks a shortage of medical professionals, a point made in the executive summary.
Bursey thinks Haley will eventually follow suit with other Republican governors who opted to expand Medicaid, but anticipates she will try to privatize funds under the expansion. The group’s end goal is to prevent funneling the funds through private insurance, said Bursey, who thinks the next big fight will be over how South Carolina accepts the funds.
And for the Progressive Network, the road show couldn’t come at a better time. Bursey said the sense of fear the tea party generated in 2009 and 2010 has been significantly diminished.
He saw evidence of the group weakening last March after the state Senate rejected a measure by Sen. Tom Davis, R-Beaufort, to prevent South Carolina from using its resources to implement the federal Affordable Care Act.
“The angels sang,” Bursey said. To him, the bill’s failure represented a wedge between libertarian-leaning republicans and what he referred to as a more rational crowd of lawmakers.
But to Davis, the outcome had more to do with lawmakers worried about the federal government pushing back. Lawmakers were also under pressure by special interest groups not wanting to fight the law. Davis said in an interview in March it comes down to whom politicians fear the most at election time—the interest groups or the people.