Report: 183,000 S.C. workers would benefit from Obamacare

Charleston Post and Courier

March 26, 2015

By Lauren Sausser

Some 30,000 food service workers in this state would qualify for Medicaid if South Carolina expanded eligibility for the low-income health insurance program under Obamacare, a new report shows.

Waitresses, bus boys and line cooks, who make too little money to pay for private policies, are employed by an industry that typically offers few benefits — no paid time off, no retirement plan, no subsidized insurance.

“They can’t afford to miss work, and they can’t afford to go to the doctor if they don’t feel good,” said Frank Knapp, president of the S.C. Small Business Chamber of Commerce, which supports the Affordable Care Act. “They’re handling everybody’s food. We’re just crazy not to want to make sure these people are healthy — even if it’s for our own protection.”

Families USA, a nonprofit Washington group that also supports the Affordable Care Act, said this week that an additional 153,000 South Carolinians employed by other industries — in sales or construction jobs, for example — and 164,000 unemployed adults would also qualify for Medicaid coverage if the state expanded the program. Its report is based on information from the U.S. Census American Community Survey.

“Expanding coverage is a sound investment for South Carolina, creating a healthier workforce and strengthening the state’s economy,” the group said in its report.

Gov. Nikki Haley disagrees. She has adamantly opposed expanding Medicaid coverage as prescribed by Obamacare. For three years, ever since the U.S. Supreme Court decided expansion was optional and that states could decide for themselves to opt out, she has repeated that South Carolina will not participate.

Haley spokeswoman Chaney Adams said Thursday that the governor’s position has not changed.

Even though the federal government would cover most of the bill for Medicaid expansion, Haley’s administration has argued before that South Carolina can’t afford to spend more on a program that already costs about $7 billion a year to administer in this state. Today, Medicaid in South Carolina covers more than 1 million adults and children. With very few exceptions, adults without children in this state do not qualify, no matter how poor they are.

Meanwhile, most other states have decided to expand Medicaid coverage for their residents who fall below 138 percent of the federal poverty level — about $16,000 a year for a single adult.

“Accepting these federal dollars would make all the difference in the world to these people,” Knapp said.



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