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Working Toward a Medicaid Expansion Decision

July 1, 2013

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. - A summer study group, the "Medicaid Opportunities and Challenges Task Force" was appointed by Governor Dennis Daugaard to study the possible expansion of Medicaid in South Dakota. The expansion, part of the federal Affordable Care Act, would potentially extend coverage to about 50,000 people in the state. The task force is supposed to gather information to help the governor and legislature make a decision.

According to Tim Trithart, CEO of Community Health Center of the Black Hills in Rapid City and a member of the task force, they have a big job.

"It's a complex issue, and there are a lot of permutations, a lot of pros, and obviously a lot of dollar figures that were thrown around," he recounted. "There's a lot of people who could be supported by this and it will have an impact, really, across the state both in rural communities and urban areas."

The task force met last week in Sioux Falls and will meet again in August. The governor has asked the committee not to come up with a recommendation, but to gather as much information as they can.

Trithart said they heard a lot of personal experiences from people who testified before the task force.

"We're seeing people coming up and providing testimony exactly how the expansion of this Medicaid impacts them directly, their personal finances, personal impact of them in their health situation they are in," he said. That includes "their ability to get cancer screenings appropriately, their ability to stop diseases at earlier stages, so some of that stuff is really moving."

Trithart said the expansion would allow community health centers to expand the scope of their services to more people.

"41, 42 percent of our patients that we serve now are completely uninsured, and a good chunk of those would qualify for the expansion of Medicaid," he said. "The challenge is for those people who are uninsured is that they can come in and see us at a community health center and get some basic primary care, but it is always a challenge to be able to tie them in with other specialists. There is a limit to what sort of care that we can provide."

Trithart said those who are covered by programs like Medicaid usually have better medical outcomes.

Jerry Oster, Public News Service - SD