March 23, 2011
Health care law has 820,000 fans in South Carolina
Opponents still fighting 1-year-old measure
By Yvonne Wenger
The Post and Courier
COLUMBIA -- Brittanie Turpin screens her phone calls since an emergency gallbladder surgery put the 23-year-old Mount Pleasant woman $20,000 in debt.
Dodging bill collectors wasn't the way Turpin expected to start her adult life.
Benefits to S.C. so far
On its first anniversary, the Affordable Care Act has provided health care perks to at least 820,000 South Carolinians. The law is in effect, despite the fact that it is maligned by S.C. Republican leaders and faces court challenges and threats of congressional repeal. It is expected to cost the state between $1 billion and $5 billion over 10 years.
Here are some of the benefits so far for the state:
--46,900 seniors with high prescription drug costs have received rebate checks for $250.
--15,100 young adults can stay on their parents' insurance until they are 26.
--758,000 Medicare enrollees can receive wellness visits and preventative screenings such as colonoscopies and mammograms without co-payments, co-insurance or deductibles.
--Thousands more South Carolinians will benefit as the law becomes fully effective. Various phases guarantee coverage for children with pre-existing conditions, lift lifetime limits on coverage, and ban insurance companies from taking advantage of an application mistake to drop coverage when an individual gets sick, among other provisions.
--$16.8 million to South Carolina so far for grants to hold down insurance premiums, build competitive insurance marketplaces, provide insurance to early retirees and strengthen public health and prevention efforts.
--Provides up to 57,896 small businesses in South Carolina with tax credits to offset the costs of purchasing coverage for their employees.
She lost health insurance when she left Winthrop University after two years and became an apprentice at Ivory Tiger Tattoo in Summerville. After her surgery last year, she learned that the new federal health care law allows her to stay on her mother's insurance until she turns 26.
All she has to do is wait until completion of the application process.
The coverage won't erase her $20,000 debt, but it will help her stay healthy and stop her from going further into the red.
"It was a relief because I can finally go get my eyes checked," she said. "I haven't been able to go to the dentist. I have asthma and one inhaler is over $100. It's pretty tough without insurance."
Today marks the one-year anniversary of the Affordable Care Act. The new health care law that has divided Americans and spurred debate among politicians provides benefits for at least 820,000 South Carolinians, according to government records.
Love it or hate it
Anton Gunn, a former Democratic state lawmaker and President Barack Obama's regional director for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, said the law is being rolled out in phases. That continues in the face of congressional repeal attempts and court challenges.
"We're going full-speed ahead and leaving the politics up to the politicians," Gunn said.
The new law is under attack by South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, Attorney General Alan Wilson and most of the state's congressional delegation. Those Republican officials have been at the forefront of the law's constitutional challenges and congressional battles.
Meanwhile, Haley is in talks with Obama for the state to opt out of the Affordable Care Act and find its own solutions.
Haley's press secretary, Rob Godfrey, said the governor and her Health and Human Services director, Tony Keck, are working to find the best quality health care at the lowest price.
The cash-strapped state is struggling to pay for Medicaid, the health insurance entitlement program primarily for the poor and disabled. The Health and Human Services Department faces a $225 million deficit this year, and the House version of next year's budget pumps $435 million more into the Medicaid agency.
State officials agreed to cover $200 million of the deficit this year after the Haley administration ran into roadblocks in its attempts to cut spending. The administration was limited in large part by the federal decree that came with the passage of the health care law and locked in coverage for Medicaid recipients.
South Carolina's GOP-controlled Legislature refuses to raise taxes or reverse tax breaks, which forces budget cuts in other areas to cover the Medicaid budget explosion.
The health care law is projected to cost South Carolina between $1 billion and $5 billion over the next decade.
Under the law, the federal government will pay 100 percent for the expanded care in 2014 and 2015. The state will kick in 5 percent in 2016 and 2017. After that, the state will owe 10 percent to the federal government's 90 percent for all who signed up for Medicaid as part of the expansion.
The state is expecting increased costs to come from three areas, including new administrative fees, a spike in people who qualify for Medicaid but aren't currently signed up, and the result of people deciding to drop private insurance to enroll in Medicaid.
Who it helps
Advocates, such as Gunn, who also served as political director of Obama's 2008 South Carolina presidential primary campaign, want people to know the law has advantages for average Americans.
It gives $250 rebate checks to seniors with high prescription drug costs, allows young adults to stay on their parents' insurance until they're 26 and provides Medicare enrollees preventive services such as colon cancer screenings and mammograms without co-payments, coinsurance or deductibles.
Likewise, insurance companies won't be able to deny coverage to children with pre-existing conditions, nor will the companies be able to drop coverage when patients get sick or make mistakes on applications. The law also provides small businesses with tax credits.
"For all the predictions of gloom and doom, the one-year anniversary of the Affordable Care Act clearly shows that it is and will continue to make health insurance more affordable for small businesses," said Frank Knapp Jr., S.C. Small Business Chamber of Commerce president.
Dr. Marshall Newton, who has a practice in West Ashley, said he posts information about the law in exam rooms to educate patients. Thelma Roman, 62, of Johns Island, said she felt rescued when Newton told her about nine months ago that the health care law made health insurance available to her through the Pre-existing Condition Insurance Plan.
She lost her insurance two years ago when she retired at 60 from a 37-year nursing career. She had worked toward the early retirement goal, despite the deaths of her husband and son and the reality that she will spend her golden years raising her grandson.
The tipping point came when diabetes drained her savings and she was left drowning in medical bills.
To her, the plan's $2,000 deductible and $520 monthly premium is a safety net.
"I thank the Lord; I am so happy I have insurance," Roman said.
Reach Yvonne Wenger at 803-926-7855.
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