By Phil Sarata, The Times and Democrat
Published April 14, 2011
The opening battle over how a key component of federal health care reform will be instituted in South Carolina is being waged by the governor’s office and Democratic lawmakers.
Legislation co-sponsored by Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter, D-Orangeburg, would set up an independent health exchange to purchase and sell qualified health plans to individuals. The federal Affordable Care Act requires each state to establish an exchange by January 2014.
Cobb-Hunter said the Tea Party and Gov. Nikki Haley have successfully convinced Republican legislators who co-sponsored the bill early on to drop their support. The move could kill the bill’s chances this session.
“Those opposed to the (healthcare reform) act don’t want the federal government to force a system on South Carolina,” Cobb-Hunter said. “The irony is that, by all accounts, their actions ensure the feds will come in and implement a federal health benefits exchange in January 2014.”
Republicans began removing their names as bill co-sponsors after Gov. Nikki Haley signed an executive order March 10 creating a 12-member health exchange planning committee. The order stipulates the group hold its first meeting no later than April 15.
Asked about the governor’s position on the House bill, Haley press secretary Rob Godfrey provided audio of a March 30 interview of Haley with a Greenville radio station host.
“I’ve said very clearly that if it comes to my desk, I’m going to veto it,” Haley said. “What we have done is set up a commission to study the health in South Carolina and look at any and every way we can opt out of Obamacare.
“What we don’t need is a bill that is creating a state exchange that is nothing more than going along with what the federal government is telling us to do.”
A Florida federal judge declared the healthcare reform law unconstitutional in January. Some state leaders and conservative groups feel the health exchange issue is dead pending the outcome of legal challenges.
In a recent email bulletin from the South Carolina Small Business Chamber, CEO Frank Knapp Jr. contends the “complicated, slow process” of putting together a fully operational exchange must start now.
Supporters of the exchange bill “have already agreed to amend the bill to delete certain contentious sections that can be filled in next year after the Governor’s Exchange Planning Committee completes its work,” Knapp said. “But at least the legislative vehicle can move forward, giving the General Assembly the chance to create the exchange.”
The South Carolina Policy Council, a conservative think tank, advocates adoption of a “free market” plan rather than creating an exchange. President Ashley Landess said state leaders should institute insurance reform and cut taxes across the board.
“The executive and legislative branches need to look at all the federal grant money they solicit and put a moratorium on that,” Landess said. “Let’s return what we don’t need.
“We have not examined all the federal programs in a long time, and they come with strings attached. State leaders need to take control and curtail our heavy dependence on Washington dollars.”