State leaders are talking weekly with federal officials as they work on a change that could prompt Medicaid expansion in South Dakota. Governor Dennis Daugaard says federal leaders need to settle their policy before South Dakotans can decide whether the state can financially support as many as 55,000 more people on Medicaid.
The Medicaid expansion discussion typically falls along party lines. Democrats push for the state to accept federal dollars and change the rules to make more people eligible for the program, while Republican lawmakers and the governor says it’s too expensive.
Now Daugaard says new policies at the federal level could insure more people and use fewer taxpayer dollars.
"And those saving benefit a lot of people in South Dakota if we can achieve them, and I think it’s realistically possible," Daugaard says. "The question that people have before they understand it is, ‘how can that work?’ Well, you really have to sit down and go through all of the numbers. But once people do understand it, their arguments against Medicaid expansion based upon money should generally be gone. They might still have objections based on philosophy."
Daugaard says South Dakota has the money to expand Medicaid if federal officials agree to cover the cost of health care for Native Americans. He says some Native Americans are eligible for both Indian Health Services and Medicaid. Daugaard says last year state tax dollars covered $67 million when qualifying people had to get health care at non-IHS facilities.
Daugaard says federal officials are open to reimbursing South Dakota for that coverage. The governor says even with conservative estimates those millions surpass the cost of expanding Medicaid in the state.
Tom Dempster served in the state legislature for eight years. He calls Governor Dennis Daugaard’s plan “brilliant.”
"If he’s able to pull off his plans for Medicaid, he needs to do nothing else to secure his legacy for his entire eight years as governor of South Dakota," Dempster says. "This is such a huge change, and it makes especially such a difference to our Native Americans [in] the increased quality of the care that they will receive, not to mention the additional numbers of people that will be receiving Medicaid treatment at no cost to the state of South Dakota."
Dempster says this strategy is the right way to expand Medicaid to benefit people around the state.