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High Court Decision Could Make Medicaid Expansion More Difficult

Courtesy Photo

A healthcare advocacy group has lost a legal fight.

The state Supreme Court says voters will decide a ballot question that could affect Medicaid expansion. 

The state Legislature is asking voters to make it harder to pass ballot questions that raise taxes or require the state spend 10 million dollars over five years. Those ballot questions would require 60 percent voter approval.

Rick Weiland is with the Dakotans for Health, which opposes the measure. He’s disappointed but respects the court’s decision.

“It just further strengthens our resolve to get Medicaid expansion passed in South Dakota,” Weiland says. “obviously, this was something the Legislature has been opposed to and came up with this joint resolution strategy to require Medicaid expansion to pass by 60 percent in November and put it on the primary ballot.”

Legislators originally considered putting the measure on the general election ballot in 2022. Republican State Senator Lee Schoenbeck convinced them to put it on the primary election ballot, before voters consider Medicaid expansion in the fall

“If the voters decide it’s the right policy to require 60 percent for a large taxing or spending plan, then it ought to apply to the taxing or spending plan on the November ballot,” Schoenbeck says. “I think it’s kind of funny that these people want to use the ballot but are afraid to let the voters have this issue on the ballot.”

In 2018, about 26 percent of voters turned out for the June primary as opposed to about 65 percent for the general election in November. Most primary election races are between Republican candidates.

South Dakota is one of 12 states that have not expanded Medicaid. There are two groups pushing Medicaid expansion ballot questions for the 2022 election. If approved, 40,000 additional working South Dakotans would gain access to healthcare.

Lee Strubinger is SDPB’s Rapid City-based news and political reporter. A former reporter for Fort Lupton Press (CO) and Colorado Public Radio, Lee holds a master’s in public affairs reporting from the University of Illinois-Springfield.