Democrats Make Medicaid Expansion Top Budget Priority

Pierre, SD (November 30, 2012) –  Health care is a “life and death” issue for South Dakota, and making the federal reforms work for South Dakotans will be one of the top budget priorities for Democrat lawmakers in the 2013 legislative session.

An estimated 48,000 South Dakotans are uninsured, and tens of thousands of others face affordability and accessibility issues. The Affordable Care Act will provide over $2 billion over the next 10 years to provide health care. “Not only is this a critical issue for families without access to health care, but it’s also critical to our state’s economy. That is a huge transfusion of income for communities large and small across our state,” said Rep. Bernie Hunhoff, the House minority leader in the state legislature.

Hunhoff said it’s time to end political gamesmanship over the Affordable Care Act. “The program was passed by both houses of Congress, signed by the president and affirmed by the U.S. Supreme Court. Now the president who signed it has been re-elected. The program has been very politicized. It’s not perfect, but it’s not going away so let’s make it work for South Dakotans.”

Sen. Jason Frerichs, the Senate minority leader, said Democrats want to work with the administration and Republican colleagues to expand Medicaid eligibility and take full advantage of the benefits for South Dakotans. “For pennies on the dollar we can give working South Dakotans the security that comes with affordable health insurance. Expanding Medicaid will reduce rates of expensive emergency room care and literally save lives across South Dakota. Expanding Medicaid is our number one budget priority.”

More importantly, said the Democratic leaders, the reform will save lives. According to a study by the New England Journal of Medicine, one life is saved for every 176 adults covered through the expansion. That equates to the prevention of up to 272 deaths, based on the 48,000 South Dakotans likely to receive coverage.

“Nothing could be more pro-life than to expand Medicaid as soon as possible,” Hunhoff said.
The costs to South Dakota state government are minimal. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, Medicaid expansion will bring in $2.1 billion federal dollars to South Dakota over 10 years at an average annual state cost of $15.7 million. Including net savings from uncompensated care, the average annual cost could drop to $9.5 million over 10 years, according to the Kaiser Foundation.

“We want to do this with our eyes open,” Hunhoff says. “Let’s get all the facts and figures on the table. Part of the debate should be based on the fact that the uninsured are already costing us dearly as taxpayers, both on the state and local level. We’re paying the costs through higher taxes, higher insurance premiums and higher health care costs. This is an exciting challenge for state government and we should not shrink from the opportunity to make it work for South Dakota.”

Hunhoff and Frerichs said other Democrat budget priorities will include l) efforts to help school districts recover from their budget crises caused by drastic state aid cuts, and 2) smarter economic development investments tailored to improving peoples’ job skills, workforce development, infrastructure and entrepreneurship.

“We hope we can found common ground with our Republican colleagues on all these important issues,” said Frerichs.

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