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Sunday, 13 October 2013 00:00

South Dakota Doctors Urge Their Governor To Expand Medicaid Under Obamacare

Written by  Sy Mukherjee | ThinkProgress
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South Dakota Gov. Dennis Daugaard (R) could still expand Medicaid under Obamacare South Dakota Gov. Dennis Daugaard (R) could still expand Medicaid under Obamacare AP Photo/Doug Dreyer

South Dakota doctors are urging Gov. Dennis Daugaard (R) to expand Medicaid under Obamacare, warning that a failure to do so will hurt hospitals financially and raise health care costs for people with private insurance.

Current Medicaid eligibility thresholds in most states — including South Dakota — are so demanding that they disqualify even the poorest working adults from receiving coverage through the program. In South Dakota, 15 percent of the adult population lives at or below 100 percent of the Federal Poverty Level (FPL), which works out to be about $11,500 per year for an individual. But just eight percent of adults are covered by Medicaid.

Under Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion, any adult making up to 138 percent FPL would be able enroll in the public health insurance program. That would end up cutting South Dakota’s uninsurance rate by more than half. Without the expansion, on the other hand, South Dakota’s poorest will have to continue relying on the emergency room for their medical services.

Doctors argue that the state’s uninsured won’t be able to afford those procedures, forcing hospitals to swallow a financial loss that they would then pass on to privately-insured consumers by charging them higher prices. “The citizens of South Dakota are going to continue to get care, but it’s going to be more expensive and it’s not going to have the same kind of outcomes,” said South Dakota State Medical Association President Dr. Daniel Heinemann in an interview with the Rapid City Journal.

Daugaard is reticent to expand Medicaid, echoing other GOP governors’ concerns that the federal government will renege on its commitment to fund the vast majority of expansion’s costs. But Heinemann and other doctors argue that all South Dakota residents would see their medical care costs go up without the Medicaid expansion.

They also say that giving basic health benefits to the poorest is prudent in the long-term, since low-income residents would then be able to seek out preventative care, improve their personal health, and consequently lower overall health care spending.

“We know that people who are uninsured are more likely to live longer and have healthier lives,” Heinemann told the Associated Press.

A recent study by the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation found that states refusing to expand Medicaid under Obamacare will leave over 5 million of the poorest Americans without basic health benefits. Oregon, which expanded Medicaid under Obamacare, cut its uninsurance rate by 10 percent in just two weeks by signing up over 50,000 poor resident for coverage.

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