- Associated Press - Monday, July 4, 2016

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) - Opponents of Medicaid expansion in South Dakota say Gov. Dennis Daugaard’s chances of broadening eligibility for the program have likely diminished since he announced he won’t call a special legislative session to consider it.

It’s “very possible” the Republican will propose in the 2017 session to open the program to roughly 50,000 more low-income residents, the governor said. But expansion foes predict the Legislature will be less receptive after the November elections because several conservative Republicans triumphed over moderates in primaries for Senate seats, and an expansion would require majority support in both legislative chambers, which almost certainly will remain in Republican hands.

“I think the path for the governor’s office is potentially going to be tougher next session, but we’re continuing to march forward with the thought that that very well could be a topic for 2017,” said Ben Lee, state director at opposition group Americans for Prosperity-South Dakota.

Daugaard, who had floated the idea of a summer special session, decided against it after hearing from lawmakers who wanted more time to study the proposal and to wait until after the presidential election to consider it. The move was a blow to Democrats pushing for expansion, and Senate Minority Leader Billie Sutton said it would remain their top priority when lawmakers gather in 2017.

Their push would be helped if Democrats can gain some legislative seats in November to stave off a more conservative Senate, he said.

There are enough undecided and leaning legislators in both chambers to make expansion a “real possibility” in 2017, said Jennifer Stalley, a lobbyist for the Community HealthCare Association of the Dakotas, which is among many groups supporting expansion.

Daugaard told The Associated Press in May that a federal move to take on more Medicaid costs for Native American enrollees would cut state costs enough to offset the price of expansion, a condition he would need to support it.

Daugaard has said part of the reason why he didn’t call a special session is because he didn’t want undecided lawmakers to make a decision and be pressured to stick with it.

“Generally, if people are uncertain about change, they’ll vote no, and I didn’t want people to dig in on that vote,” Daugaard said in a recent interview.

Daugaard’s stance is a departure from other GOP governors who’ve resisted expanding Medicaid. Some Republican lawmakers in South Dakota don’t share his view, with state House Republicans serving as the loudest opponents during the 2016 session.

The governor likely won’t find support for expansion in either legislative chamber, Republican Rep. Don Haggar said.

“I think there are stakeholders that are not going to be willing to let this drop, but I certainly don’t think 2017 will be the year of Medicaid expansion, especially if I have anything to say about it,” Haggar said.

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