- Associated Press - Monday, February 29, 2016

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) - Gov. Dennis Daugaard said Monday that he won’t pursue an expansion of Medicaid in South Dakota during the current legislative session.

The governor made the announcement after getting input from federal officials about policy revisions necessary to satisfy his conditions. Daugaard said there are not enough days left in the legislative session for lawmakers to consider his plan and adequately make their decisions.

“This does not mean that we are done,” Daugaard said during a news teleconference from Pierre.

Daugaard has proposed expanding eligibility to roughly another 50,000 South Dakota residents, as long as the state’s share of the cost is covered by other savings. His stance marks a departure from many other Republican governors who have resisted expanding Medicaid as part of the federal health care overhaul.

Democrats said they were disappointed, but understood that the federal letter came in very late.

“We have to get this done,” said Senate Minority Leader Billie Sutton of Burke. “It’s not a matter of when.”

The federal policy addresses health care costs for Medicaid-eligible people who can get services through Indian Health Service. The recent changes could reduce current state spending, with money saved to be put toward expansion.

Daugaard said state officials will continue to work on a plan to implement the federal policy and determine if it will free up enough money to allow South Dakota to expand Medicaid. He said the state would need to identify $12 million in ongoing savings to fund the plan through the 2017 fiscal year, and $57 million in savings to fund expansion through 2021.

“I’m hopeful that we might be able to address it in a special session if the savings can be identified and if implementation is practically realistic,” he said.

Rep. Spencer Hawley, the House minority leader, said Democrats support dedicating a special session to the topic.

“At the same time, we’re going to make sure that this does happen and this goes through,” said Hawley, D-Brookings.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services sent a letter to officials in South Dakota and other states on Friday outlining policy revisions that may help accommodate a potential expansion.

The letter says the federal government will use Medicaid dollars to fully fund services for Native Americans who are eligible for Medicaid and receive care from providers outside Indian Health Service, as long as the provider has an agreement with IHS or a tribal facility. The state’s proposal hinges on whether some services for Native Americans who are eligible for Medicaid can be fully funded by the federal government.

Sen. Troy Heinert, a Mission Democrat whose district includes the Rosebud Indian Reservation, said the state’s tribes are counting on state leaders to expand Medicaid so Native Americans can access better quality health care.

“On my reservation, we’re averaging the loss of one tribal member a week through ambulance rides to Valentine or Winner because our emergency room is closed,” said Heinert, the Senate’s assistant minority leader.


Follow Dirk Lammers on Twitter at https://twitter.com/ddlammers

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