PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — The possibility that South Dakota might expand Medicaid eligibility to 138% of the federal poverty level has spurred at least one side of the Legislature into preparing for it.
State senators voted 21-14 Tuesday to create a special fund where money could be set aside to help cover future costs that state government would gradually face.
“It’s only triggered if we do,” said Senator Wayne Steinhauer, R-Hartford, adding that expansion looks “very likely” at the ballot box. He’s prime sponsor of SB 102, which goes to the House next.
A coalition of groups led by South Dakota’s largest healthcare providers gathered signatures to put the expansion question on the ballot in November. Republican legislators last year, trying to pre-empt it, put a question on the June primary ballot that if passed would require any future measure that causes state government to spend at least $10 million per year to get at least 60% support to take effect. Steinhauer voted for putting the 60% requirement on the ballot.
He said Tuesday he wants to avoid “a financial shock to the system” if expansion passes. The fund would be used to create a reserve that could be drawn upon.
Senator John Wiik, R-Big Stone City, opposed creating the fund. He’s a member of the Joint Committee on Appropriations that establishes state government’s annual budget. Wiik warned, based on past events, that appropriators could sweep money from the Medicaid fund. “Any time there’s a down year, that money can go away,” he said.
Senator Jean Hunhoff, R-Yankton, defended establishing the fund. She chairs the appropriations panel. She agreed it’s unclear whether enough voters will support expansion. “The fact we do know is it is on the ballot,” she said. She added, “There are going to be additional costs to the state of South Dakota. There’s no question about that.”
The Legislative Research Council has estimated five years of costs if the expansion occurs. Every year is well over $10 million.
“The public wants to know we’re doing this right,” Steinhauer said.
Senators also voted 34-1 for legislative approval of HB 1103 that calls for the state government to establish Medicaid schedules for dental, eye and chiropractic care. The state Department of Social Services opposed the bill at its House hearing but didn’t testify at the Senate hearing.