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OPINION: Don’t turn your back on working poor

There is no easy answer to the complex question of funding health care. But this is an especially salient time to take up the challenge, as the John T. Porter, Avera CEO89th session of the South Dakota Legislature convenes and the federal government is offering us $57 million dollars this year for expansion of Medicaid.

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I challenge our state legislature to pick up the cause of expanding Medicaid. An open and honest debate about the benefit of families across South Dakota having access to primary care and health screenings that have been proven to save overall health care costs. Currently in South Dakota, more than 48,000 people do not have access to routine health care.

Health care reform has expanded coverage to some South Dakotans through the Insurance Marketplace. This access to insurance coverage and the possibility of a federal subsidy does not cover everyone.

There are families of four who are doing everything they can on an annual income of $23,000 and falling through the cracks with no Medicaid coverage or ability to pay for insurance on the Marketplace.

I challenge our state leadership to explore expanding Medicaid. Other states that have been reluctant to commit to expansion have developed state waiver programs. Over the next three years, South Dakota could receive $649 million dollars in federal Medicaid funding by committing only $1.6 million in state funds to cover our hardworking neighbors.

The state’s investment would multiply by 406 times. Currently, we are passing up more than $156,000 a day in additional Medicaid funding. These are real dollars that would be flowing into our main street businesses and impacting the local economy. This is an economic stimulus that we have turned our backs on. It is time that we accept the federal Medicaid match and expand Medicaid.

I challenge each of us to be a voice for those who need our support and ask for a plan to help our neighbors receive the health coverage and routine care they need. As a democracy, we have pledged to help those in need with social programs when we can best provide support. Expanding Medicaid is a prime way we can help the working poor in our communities live healthier lives.

We have much to be proud of with our citizen Legislature. The legislators are dedicated servants who commit much time to the government of our state. I would like to thank them for their service and challenge them to think of the working poor during this session.

-John T. Porter is president and CEO of Avera Health.