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Lawmakers cautious about Medicaid plan

From left, state Reps. Lance Carson and Tona Rozum sit alongside state Sen. Mike Vehle during a public forum Saturday at Mitchell Technical Institute’s Amphitheater. Moderating the event was Chris Paustian, far right, who’s a member of the Mitchell Area Chamber of Commerce’s Governmental Affairs Committee. (Luke Hagen/Republic)

Reps. Lance Carson and Tona Rozum think the Legislature might attempt an expansion of the Medicaid program to cover more people, but not as many as a federal health care law intended.

During an hour-long public forum Saturday at Mitchell Technical Institute’s Amphitheater, the two Mitchell Republicans who represent District 20 — Davison, Aurora and Jerauld counties — explained there has been a lot of discussion among lawmakers about health care coverage in the state for people who are below 100 percent of the poverty level.

“I think we’ll see something coming forward,” Rozum said in front of about 30 people who attended the forum, also known as a cracker barrel. “There is solid support for doing something for those people.”

Sen. Mike Vehle, also a District 20 Republican from Mitchell, said he’s not optimistic that such a proposal would be endorsed by the federal government.

“I will agree that if there’s something done, that’s going to be the arena that something will happen,” Vehle said, referring to people below 100 percent of the poverty level.

Under President Barack Obama’s health care law, states have the option of expanding Medicaid. With expansion, all people earning up to 138 percent of the poverty level, which is $15,451 for a single person or $31,809 for a family of four, would be covered. The expansion could cover an estimated 48,500 additional people in the state, according to South Dakota Department of Social Services.

In states that do not expand Medicaid — as South Dakota so far has not — some people may find their income is too high to qualify for Medicaid, and also too low to qualify for new health insurance subsidies provided by the Affordable Care Act.

Because the threshold for premium subsidies is 100 percent of the poverty level and the threshold for Medicaid in South Dakota is about 50 percent of the poverty level, those who fall between the two levels are left out.

“In ACA as it was written, the dark hole is the people who are under 100 percent of the poverty level,” Rozum said.

Last year, federal officials rejected Gov. Dennis Daugaard’s request to expand Medicaid only to a limited group. Daugaard has recommended that South Dakota not expand Medicaid, at least for now.

The Republican governor has said the federal government is having trouble putting the health care overhaul into effect and he doubts it can meet its promise to pay the bulk of the Medicaid expansion costs.

Daugaard last year asked that South Dakota be allowed to expand Medicaid eligibility only up to 100 percent of the poverty level because those above that mark can qualify for subsidized private insurance under the health care overhaul. Federal officials rejected his request.

“I think the governor’s approach to this has been very good,” Carson said. “It’s important to let the federal government work out some of the problems before we step into it.”

Rozum believes the state will “once again ask for special dispensation to have those people covered” under 100 percent of poverty level.

“Whether the federal government will give it to us is highly questionable, I would say, and maybe unlikely,” she said.

Common Core

After a question about personal data being released with the new Common Core standards, Vehle said Senate Bill 63 forces schools and education officials to have significant barriers to share individual student information.

SB63 passed unanimously earlier this month and now heads to the House of Representatives for consideration.

“If there’s a loophole, we’ll take a look at it,” Vehle said, explaining he’s not in favor of a bill to give parents the right to opt out of testing that collects personal data. “When you start doing that, you don’t get the data you need to make the decisions you need to make."

Tech school mailing lists

Mitchell Technical Institute President Greg Von Wald asked the legislators if they’ve heard any resistance to HB1011, which would authorize state community colleges to collect names and mailing addresses of students in grades seven through 12.

“I haven’t had any pushback yet, but I’m expecting a little bit,” Vehle said. “The Department of Education was not enthusiastic about the concept.”

Flooded lands

Rozum said legislators have had “a very, very difficult time” finding middle ground on a discussion over public and non-meandering waters and House Bill 1135. The proposed bill regulates access to and use of public waters on public and private property.

Outdoors enthusiasts and landowners have differing opinions on the bill. Vehle explained nonmeandering waterways, especially in the northeast part of the state, have grown and moved onto private property. In some cases, outdoors enthusiasts are using public property access to hunt and fish on private property where water has moved and they’re doing it legally. Some landowners want that property to be restricted.

Animal cruelty

The legislators agreed any bill that covers animal cruelty needs to have the support of the state’s agriculture base, including the state’s Farm Bureau, Farmers Union, the Pork Producers, Cattlemen’s Association and Stockgrowers Association.

“The number one industry in this state is agriculture,” Vehle said. “If you don’t get them to agree to what’s going to be in that bill, the demographics of the vote, it’s not going to pass.”