Supporters of Medicaid expansion in South Dakota are launching their general election campaign with a message of improved public health and decreased treatment costs.

In an event Tuesday, South Dakotans Decide Healthcare featured groups supporting expansion. Two questions will be on the ballot this November — a constitutional amendment placed on the ballot by South Dakotans Decide Healthcare, and an initiated measure placed on the ballot by a separate group. Each would expand eligibility for Medicaid, a federal-state program that pays for the health care of low-income people.

Carissa Kemp is an advocate for the American Diabetes Association. She said coverage would benefit both diabetic and pre-diabetic patients.

“We know that medical expenses for diabetes are hard for people to afford, and so many of these costs could be prevented if people were able to have health insurance,” Kemp said. “And for low-income South Dakotans who have been diagnosed with pre-diabetes, expanding Medicaid could help them better manage that and prevent their risk of developing diabetes.”

The breast cancer nonprofit Susan G. Komen also points to the potential of preventative care funded by Medicaid.

“If individuals are unable to access screening and diagnosis they will, and do, delay lifesaving health care treatment,” said Kirsten Smith, a policy director for the group. “This delay can mean that people will not seek care until the cancer has spread to other parts of the body, making it much deadlier and up to five times more expensive to treat.”

Under the 2009 Affordable Care Act, health plans must provide certain screenings and tests for free, a requirement that applies to Medicaid.

Critics question the financial wisdom of expansion, saying it will increase dependence on the federal government’s share of the funding. This spring, state Sen. John Wiik voted against an effort to expand Medicaid in the Legislature.

“Government grows and expands unless we make hard decisions to limit its reach,” said Wiik on the Senate floor. “We want the marketplace, not the federal government to be in charge of your health care.”

Advocates say the change would reduce costs for South Dakotans.

“The more people who are covered, the fewer people who are receiving uncompensated care, the better it is for their bottom lines,” said Zach Marcus, head of South Dakotans Decide Healthcare. “Our tax dollars coming back in the state cover almost all of it, 90%.”

That number comes from a fiscal n­­­­­ote released by the Legislative Research Council.

Marcus declined to take an official position on the initiated measure, which is separate from his group’s constitutional amendment.

“We’ll have to take a look at it,” he said. “In general, we’re in favor of Medicaid expansion happening.”

Voters will decide both questions in the November general election.

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Advocates: Expanded Medicaid will reduce costs | SDPB – SDPB Radio