Many South Carolina residents have mourned the death of a man they never knew after state Sen. Clementa Pinckney, pastor of Emanuel AME Church, was gunned down at his church along with eight other people who were in the Bible study group. He was considered by many to be the best of the 46 members of the state Senate — a kind and gentle man who lived out his faith and always had time to help others.
Less known perhaps, even weeks after his death, is how Pinckney devoted his legislative career to helping “the least of these” in South Carolina and particularly his extremely poor Senate district that includes parts of Jasper, Allendale, Beaufort, Charleston, Colleton and Hampton counties. More than 100,000 people in those six counties didn’t have health insurance in 2013, and many would benefit from a Medicaid program expanded through the Affordable Care Act.
Gov. Nikki Haley, who has represented South Carolina so well during the weeks after the slaughter of the nine people at Emanuel AME Church, has steadfastly resisted expanding Medicaid in South Carolina. A majority of legislators refused to push the issue.
U.S. Congressman Jim Clyburn is one of many of Pinckney’s friends who is urging the governor and Legislature to honor Pinckney’s legacy by expanding Medicaid through the provisions of the Affordable Care Act. Doing so would be a lasting tribute to the life and work of the popular state senator, and it also would be a measure that would save lives every year in South Carolina.
Pinckney knew what the political realities were in South Carolina, Clyburn recently told the Charleston Post and Courier, “but that didn’t mean he didn’t have a passion to get health care to his constituents.” Many of those constituents are the “working poor” — people who make too little to afford health insurance, even with the subsidies provided through the Affordable Care Act, but who cannot qualify for Medicaid unless the eligibility rules are expanded.
One month before his Senate colleague’s murder, Sen. Karl Allen of Greenville wrote an op-ed for The Greenville News titled “Healthcare gap hurts state’s working poor.” Allen noted that many South Carolina residents are seeing benefits from the Affordable Care Act as evidenced by the record participation of people in the ACA’s second open enrollment period in which the state had the eighth largest increase in eligible residents signing up for health insurance and had the nation’s 10th best percentage ranking for eligible residents signing up.
“South Carolinians receiving coverage, many for the first time, gives us reason to celebrate, but we cannot ignore an equally large number of citizens who have been left out of coverage,” Allen wrote on May 15. “Approximately 200,000 of our neighbors are uninsured, living in poverty and now make up a new coverage gap created by our state’s rejection of Medicaid expansion. The Upstate is home for 54,000 of them.”
Allen presented in stark terms the facts about who suffers because South Carolina has not joined more than half of the states in expanding Medicaid. These are people in the so-called “coverage gap” who do not make enough to qualify for financial assistance to purchase insurance on healthcare.gov but they are not eligible for Medicaid under the original plan because they are not aged, blind, disabled, pregnant or in very low-income homes, Allen wrote. By making less than $11,770 a year, they are not eligible for the subsidy to purchase insurance, and they are the ones that the expanded Medicaid program was designed to cover.
These most often are the “working poor” who can be found in hourly or seasonal jobs, as Allen pointed out. Many of these workers can be found in the hospitality industry where hours are uneven and work schedules are built around the demands of the clients.
South Carolina has stubbornly resisted expanding Medicaid despite knowledge that this unyielding position leaves up to 200,000 people without health coverage, forces hospitals to pick up the bill when these sick people are treated in the emergency room, deprives the state of an economic boost that would come from providing more health care, and results in the inequity of South Carolina residents supporting expanded Medicaid in other states while it is missing here.
This remains one of the poorest states in the country despite gains in economic development. Large slices of South Carolina, particularly in rural areas, have a significant share of poverty. These are our neighbors. They deserve access to healthcare, and this should be a priority for Haley and legislators next year.
This article originally appeared on Greenville Online.