PIERRE, S.D. (AP) — An expansion of South Dakota's Medicaid program to provide health insurance to thousands of additional low-income people would reduce the number of people unable to pay their bills for medical care, hospital executives said Tuesday.
South Dakota hospitals were unable to collect about $90 million last year from people who had no insurance or otherwise did not pay their bills, according to the South Dakota Association of Healthcare Organizations.
Fred Slunecka, chief executive officer of the Avera Health System, said patients with private health insurance now pay extra to offset hospitals' losses in charity care and other unpaid bills. Businesses that provide insurance for their employees should support an expansion of Medicaid because providing coverage for an extra 48,000 low-income people would reduce the costs subsidized by private insurance, he said.
"They are the ones bearing the burden of bad debt and charity care," Slunecka told a state task force studying Medicaid expansion. "Right now it falls to the private business that provides insurance to their employees."
Gov. Dennis Daugaard appointed the 29-member task force of state lawmakers, doctors, health care executives and others to study the issue. The panel will not recommend whether Medicaid should be expanded in South Dakota, but instead will identify the advantages and disadvantages of doing so. Its report must be submitted by Sept. 15 to the governor and the Legislature, who will have the final say.
The Legislature this year agreed with the governor's recommendation to delay a decision on expanding Medicaid, the state-federal program that provides medical care to low-income people.
Daugaard has said he is uncertain whether the federal government will be able to meet its pledge of paying most of the costs of expanding Medicaid.
"That is probably Gov. Daugaard's most serious concern about expanding Medicaid. He is so frightened by the level of debt at the federal level," said Deb Bowman, a senior adviser to the governor and chair of the task force.
The federal health overhaul seeks to provide more low-income people with health insurance through subsidized private insurance offered through online marketplaces called exchanges. States also have the option of expanding Medicaid to cover people considered too poor to get the subsidized private insurance.