The Washington Times - November 19, 2013, 03:20PM

The White House on Tuesday continued its step-by-step push to expand the Medicaid health program in all 50 states under Obamacare, this time leaning on Republican leaders in South Carolina to extend coverage to 198,000 more residents by 2016.

State-level Democrats joined their pitch during an afternoon conference call, the second in as many days after the Obama administration called on Maine Gov. Paul LePage to join the 26 states and District of Columbia in extending the state-federal entitlement to those making up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level.

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South Carolina House Minority Leader J. Todd Rutherford, a Democrat, accused GOP leaders in his state of being afraid to extend the government insurance program to more low-income residents.

“This is a fear of success,” he said, noting constituents who gained coverage would be able to “thank a Democratic administration.”

Under the Affordable Care Act, the federal government would pay for 100 percent of the newly eligible Medicaid population in 2014-2016 before scaling back its contribution to 90 percent in 2020 and beyond.

But the Supreme Court said the Obama administration could not force states to expand the program by withdrawing existing Medicaid funds, effectively making it optional.

President Obama recently held a rally in Texas to urge state leaders to expand the program, but statewide officeholders like Gov. Rick Perry and Sen. Ted Cruz, both Republicans, shrugged off his message.

Many conservative leaders say the expansion is a bad deal for the states because it will inflate state-level costs in the future and Washington may renege on its promises. Some of them also feel Medicaid is a “broken” program that shouldn’t take on a throng of additional enrollees.

Proponents of expansion say conservative states are leaving money on the table that could insure many more residents and save money over time.

Mr. Rutherford brushed off concerns about administrative costs tied to expanding Medicaid, saying his state stood to gain $11 billion over the next six years.

“That is too much money to simply give away,” he said.

White House spokesman Joshua Earnest said 24 states that chose not to expand Medicaid could add 5.4 million people to the rolls by 2016 if they came around to the idea.

All told, if all states decided to expand Medicaid, they collectively would save roughly $10 billion in uncompensated care costs during the next 10 years, he said.