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Medicaid expansion in state backed by majority of SC residents, new AARP poll finds

·3 min read

A vast majority of South Carolinians ages 50 and older support Medicaid expansion, according to a new poll released by the AARP.

The organization, which advocates for people as they age, said Tuesday that 78% of people it surveyed support expanding Medicaid to residents who earn up to $18,000 a year, an expansion state leaders have so far declined to do since the passage of the Affordable Care Act in 2010.

South Carolina can net up to $600 million from the federal government in additional incentives through the American Rescue Plan if the state expands Medicaid.

“This is money South Carolinians have already paid in taxes that the state is leaving on the table and going to other states,” said Glen Fewkes, AARP’s director of health care access and affordability. “This is money the state can bring back home, boost the South Carolina economy, create jobs and keep rural hospitals open.”

About 200,000 South Carolinians with incomes that are too high to qualify for Medicaid, but are too low to qualify for savings in the health insurance marketplace would benefit if Medicaid were expanded.

Gov. Henry McMaster has stood firm in his opposition against expanding Medicaid because the federal incentives would disappear after two years and the state would have to pick up the cost.

“We simply could not afford that then and we cannot afford that now,” McMaster said last month. “The best welfare program is a job, people who are working, who are earning a living are statistically healthier (and) wealthier, … and that is the direction we need to be going.”

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Teresa Arnold, the state’s AARP director, said South Carolina could see savings in health care costs if the state expanded and the money can help pay for an expansion over four years.

“There are things we spend 100% (of) state dollars on that we won’t have to once people are covered. We know people will be healthier,” Arnold said.

The AARP poll — which surveyed of 1,000 registered voters between June 21-30 via landlines and cell phones — found 78% of respondents, including 69% of Republicans, favored expanding Medicaid.

The AARP also said state lawmakers would benefit at the ballot box because 77% of respondents said they would be favorable toward an elected official who supported Medicaid expansion, according to the poll.

Of those surveyed, 35% identified themselves as Republicans, 30% as Democrats and 21% as independents.

Fewkes argued Medicaid expansion is popular in states, even those controlled by Republicans, similar to South Carolina. For example, Arkansas reauthorizes its Medicaid expansion each year, he said.

“It simply works and they know it’s an effective use of state money,” Fewkes said.

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