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S.C. Fights New Health Law While Accepting Its Largesse

From The Spartanburg Herald-Journal:

State Has Taken Millions In Federal Health-Care Cash

By Stephen Largen
[email protected]

Published: Sunday, May 22, 2011 at 3:15 a.m.

As South Carolina fights in the courts of law and public opinion to stop the implementation of the federal health care law passed last year, the state is caught in a seeming contradiction.

While the state’s top Republican officials are united in their public opposition to the sweeping overhaul, the Palmetto State is at the same time using millions of dollars from the law. The money is flowing to agencies in the cabinet of Gov. Nikki Haley — who, like many Republicans, has railed against the law as “Obamacare” on a regular basis — along with local communities and public and private employers.

The state has so far received $16.8 million in new grant funding from the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, according to data from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

In addition to the grant money, the state Treasurer’s Office on behalf of the Budget and Control Board has received more than $27 million from the health care-overhaul funded Early Retiree Reinsurance Program, designed to ease the financial burden on entities participating in the state health plan facing high-cost claims submitted by early retirees.

Some tea party groups and Haley critics said the governor should do more to fight the heavy flow of health reform cash into the state.

South Carolina has not gone as far as some states in combating the law. In Louisiana, for example, the administration of Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal opted to return a $1 million federal grant it received from HHS to help set up a health care exchange.

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, also a Republican, sent back more than $600,000 in grant funding for an outreach program.

The new law dictates that states either use federal grants to create their own exchanges or the government will set one up for them before the Affordable Care Act takes full effect in January 2014.

In South Carolina, after Republican support for a Democratic lawmaker’s bill that would have created a state exchange wilted in the face of tea party pressure during the current legislative session, Haley issued an executive order creating the South Carolina Health Exchange Planning Committee to study the issue.

The 12-member group, which is being funded by a $1 million exchange-planning grant from the health-care overhaul, subsequently removed the word “exchange” from its name.

Haley’s Health and Human Services Director Tony Keck has explained the move by saying that the committee is not limiting itself to solely planning for an exchange.

In addition to the $1 million in Affordable Care Act grant funding being used by the Haley administration for the planning committee, the state Department of Insurance, a cabinet agency, is using a $441,000 grant for a consumer assistance program and another $1 million grant to study the state’s insurance premium review process to make more information available to consumers.

Former Gov. Mark Sanford was still in office when the Department of Insurance applied for the rate-review and insurance exchange grants, but the projects have been launched since Haley took office in January.

South Carolina Democratic Party Chairman Dick Harpootlian said the Haley administration is attempting to have it both ways with regard to the health-care overhaul funding, calling the governor “a closet ‘Obamacare’ supporter.”

“This political schizophrenia of hers typically cuts against everything I believe in, but I guess a blind hog finds an acorn occasionally,” said Harpootlian, an Affordable Care Act supporter.

Democratic lawmakers led a push earlier this spring for an audit of the Department of Insurance seeking to find out more information about how the Affordable Care Act grant funding is being used by the department, and whether the money is being used in compliance with the law.

South Carolina Legislative Audit Council Director Tom Bardin said the audit has been approved and is under way.

Haley also has faced questions on her administration’s use of Affordable Care Act funding from some conservative activist groups. The Greenville Tea Party recently sent a letter to the governor asking her to return the $1 million exchange planning grant, organizer Chris Lawton said.

Spartanburg Tea Party organizer Karen Martin said that she also asked Haley to send back the grant funding in conversations with the governor’s staff.

Haley met with Martin and a group of more than a dozen tea party leaders in Columbia last month, and the topic of the health care exchange grant came up, Martin said.

According to Martin, Haley told the group that she could not return the grant, and planned to use the money not to determine how to set up an exchange, but to help eliminate duplicate and wasteful programs.

Haley spokesman Rob Godfrey did not directly respond to questions asking whether the administration explored returning any Affordable Care Act funding or whether the administration sees any contradiction between fighting the Affordable Care Act in court and allowing money from the overhaul to be used by cabinet agencies.

“The governor remains an equal opportunity opponent of Obamacare, the spending disaster that South Carolina does not want and cannot afford, and that’s why she by executive order established the committee to study South Carolina solutions that provide our state with the most health at the least cost,” Godfrey said in a statement.

South Carolina is among the close to 30 states that have joined a case challenging the legality of the Affordable Care Act. Joel Sawyer, executive director of the South Carolina Republican Party, said in a statement that no governor has “fought harder against Obamacare and all of its facets” than Haley.

The leader of the South Carolina Policy Council, a conservative-leaning think tank that promotes limited government and government transparency, said the use of the health-care overhaul grant funding is another example of the state’s unnecessary use of federal money.

“How are we possibly going to refuse to comply with it (the health care law) when we are using it to prop up our programs?” council president Ashley Landess said. “If we really want to say ‘no’ to this federal health care program, we are going to have to cut our dependence on federal dollars — period.”