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Health care advocates join to back one Medicaid expansion ballot question, instead of two

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Two groups looking to expand Medicaid in South Dakota are joining forces to back one ballot question instead of two.

Dakotans for Health and South Dakotans Decide Healthcare will both work to pass a constitutional amendment that expands Medicaid.

Zach Marcus is with the group South Dakotans Decide Healthcare, which is backing the constitutional amendment.

"I’m grateful that Dakotans for Health will be a major partner in ensuring this critical Amendment passes in November,” Marcus said.

Dakotans for Health had gathered signatures to place what became Initiated Measure 28 on the ballot. That ballot question has been withdrawn. The other Medicaid-expansion measure, Constitutional Amendment D, will remain on the ballot.

Rick Weiland is the co-founder of Dakotans for Health. In a statement, Weiland said he's grateful to the 24,000 South Dakotans who signed the petitions that got IM 28 on the ballot.

"You showed the huge groundswell of support for Medicaid expansion in our state. After conversations with South Dakotans Decide Healthcare members, we have agreed that the best path forward to accomplishing this goal is to join efforts behind one campaign," Weiland said in the statement. "We look forward to passing Constitutional Amendment D and ensuring hard-working South Dakotans can access the affordable health coverage they need.”

Constitutional amendments are less likely to receive interference from state lawmakers. The Republican-controlled Legislature has been resistant to Medicaid expansion. Republican lawmakers went so far as to try to raise the threshold on constitutional amendments to make expansion tougher.

Medicaid expansion would provide health care coverage for an additional 40,000 South Dakotans. It would cost $1.5 billion over the first five years, with the state's share coming in at $166 million. That's a 90 percent match by the federal government.

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.