S.C. Gov. Haley to reject federal health insurance exchange funds

Gov. Nikki Haley said she will let federal deadlines slip by and not accept millions in federal funds to help South Carolina set up its own health insurance exchange.

Health insurance exchanges, the centerpiece of federal health care reform, are online marketplaces, to be set up by each state, where the uninsured could compare insurance plans from private insurance companies and buy the one that best fits their needs. Uninsured people who meet certain federal poverty guidelines could buy coverage using federal tax credits.

The exchanges are scheduled to open in 2014 when the health care law goes into full effect. If a state has not made progress by Jan. 1, 2013, the federal government will step in.

But Haley and Tony Keck, whom Haley appointed to head the state’s Department of Health and Human Services, say the federal plan is not the right fit for South Carolina.

“The governor remains an equal opportunity opponent of ObamaCare, the spending disaster that South Carolina does not want and cannot afford,” said Rob Godfrey, Haley’s spokesman. “She and Tony Keck are focused on finding South Carolina solutions that provide our state with the most health at the least cost.”

Democrats say Haley is playing politics with an important issue that affects millions of South Carolinians. Other Republican governors, including Texas Gov. and GOP presidential candidate Rick Perry, also are saying they will not accept the money.

“If South Carolina would put half the effort into figuring out how to do this versus being opposed to it, we would be light years ahead in making sure people could get health care coverage they need,” said Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter, D-Orangeburg, who sponsored a bill this past session to set up a state health exchange.

“Governor Haley and all these people spouting the rhetoric have good health coverage,” Cobb-Hunter said. “The people who don’t have a place at the table, their voices are not being heard.”

Twenty-one percent of South Carolinians under age 65 are not insured, according to a 2004 survey by the state Department of Insurance, meaning they do not have private insurance or public insurance such as Medicaid or Medicare. An updated study is being conducted now for the department.

Keck said his opposition to applying for the money is that federal rules for the new exchanges are still not clear. And that’s making officials in many states hesitant to accept money and agree to yet-to-be-determined rules and regulations.

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