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South Carolina health insurance

'Palmetto State' health rank improves, but 16.8% still uninsured

  • By
  • contributor
  • August 13, 2014

Public health and realistic, affordable access to health care are significant factors in long term health outcomes and quality of life. They vary quite a bit from one state to another however. Here’s a summary of South Carolina residents’ overall health, access to health insurance, and the state’s approach to healthcare reform:

South Carolina health ratings

South Carolina ranked 36th (up three spots from 39th in 2009) out of the 50 states and District of Columbia by The Commonwealth Fund’s Scorecard on State Health System Performance in 2014. Details showing how the state was rated are available in the South Carolina Scorecard.

But in 2013, America’s Health Rankings placed South Carolina squarely in the bottom quartile, at 43rd out of the 50 states in terms of overall health. The state’s rating is helped somewhat by moderate binge drinking and moderate immunization coverage among children, and also by the fact that there’s little disparity in health outcomes based on education level in South Carolina.

But the state’s public health challenges are formidable: A quarter of the population is physically inactive, and South Carolina has one of the nation’s highest rates of diabetes (11.6 percent of the adult population). There is also a low high school graduation rate, low immunization rates for adolescents, and high prevalence of Salmonella and chlamydia infections.

Trust for America’s Health provides more data on overall public health in South Carolina in their 2014 edition of Key Health Data About South Carolina, which includes information on specific diseases and health factors. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has also compiled health data in South Carolina and broken it down to a county level; you can use this interactive map to see how the counties in South Carolina rank against one another.

South Carolina and the Affordable Care Act

In 2010, both of South Carolina’s U.S. Senators, Republicans Jim DeMint and Lindsey Graham, voted no on the ACA. In the U.S. House, four Republican Representatives from South Carolina voted no, while two Democrats voted yes. Only one of them, Jim Clyburn, is still in office and is the lone Democrat in South Carolina’s current U.S. congressional delegation, which includes two Republican Senators and six Republican Representatives.

Gov. Nikki Haley is also fiercely opposed to the ACA, calling it “disastrous” and vowing to “continue to fight ObamaCare every step of the way.” Haley has a state legislature with a strong Republican majority, so her efforts to block ObamaCare in South Carolina have been largely successful. The state defaulted to a federally run exchange, and has refused to expand Medicaid.

How did the ACA help South Carolina?

Before the ACA was implemented, the uninsured rate in South Carolina was 18.7 percent. That number has since fallen by just under two percentage points. But 16.8 percent of South Carolina residents were still uninsured as of the end of June, six months after full Obamacare implementation.

South Carolina leadership’s opposition to the ACA means the state has thus far refused to expand Medicaid, so a cornerstone of the law’s ability to reduce the uninsured rate is not being utilized. The ACA has benefitted the nearly 147,000 people who enrolled in coverage through the exchange (in both existing Medicaid/CHIP and private plans) during the first open enrollment, but there’s still a long way to go.

South Carolina QHP enrollment

In November 2013, the Kaiser Family Foundation estimated that 491,000 South Carolina residents could potentially buy coverage through the exchange, and that 336,000 of them would qualify for premium subsidies. By the end of the first open enrollment period, 118,324 people had finalized their enrollment in the South Carolina exchange, and 87 percent of them received premium subsidies.

State-wide, a total of three carriers are offering plans in the South Carolina exchange, and at least two carriers are available in every county in the state. One of the carriers is a newly-created Consumer Oriented and Operated Plan (CO-OP), funded under the ACA with a grant from the federal government. Nationwide, about $2 billion was awarded to CO-OPs in 22 states. In South Carolina, Consumers’ Choice Health Plan (CCHPSC) received about $87.6 million.

The other two carriers in the exchange are Blue Cross Blue Shield of South Carolina and CoventryOne.

South Carolina Medicaid/CHIP enrollment

South Carolina is currently one of 22 states that has not yet expanded Medicaid and has no pending plans to do so. The ACA would have expanded Medicaid to cover all legal residents with incomes up to 138 percent of poverty, but in 2012 the Supreme Court ruled that states could opt out of Medicaid expansion, and Governor Haley has steadfastly refused expansion.

The general consensus is that states like South Carolina will eventually expand Medicaid because of the economics involved. The question is really when, rather than if. But in states where political leadership is strongly opposed to Obamacare, Medicaid expansion could still be several years away.

The South Carolina exchange enrolled 28,359 people in existing Medicaid by mid-April – a small fraction of the nearly 200,000 additional people who could have enrolled if the state had expanded Medicaid. Instead, enrollment in 2014 is still contingent on South Carolina’s strict eligibility guidelines: Non-disabled adults without dependent children are ineligible regardless of income, and parents with dependent children are only eligible if their household income doesn’t exceed 62 percent of poverty (a little over $1000/month for a family of three).

Because the state refused to expand Medicaid, South Carolina has 194,330 people – about a third of its uninsured population – in the coverage gap, with no access to financial assistance with their health insurance. These residents would be eligible for Medicaid if the state were to accept federal funds to expand coverage. But for now, there are no realistic insurance options available for people with incomes below the poverty level who do not qualify for Medicaid under the state’s existing guidelines.

South Carolina officials have said that instead of expanding Medicaid, they are focusing on their Healthy Outcomes program, which helps chronically ill people without health insurance get access to treatment through free clinics and hospital charity programs. Unfortunately, the program has only helped about 8,500 people in the first seven months of 2014 – a tiny fraction of the people who are in the coverage gap in South Carolina.

Does South Carolina have a high-risk pool?

Prior to 2014, individual health insurance was underwritten in nearly every state, including South Carolina. This meant that pre-existing conditions could prevent an applicant from getting coverage, or could result in significantly higher premiums or policy exclusions. The South Carolina Health Insurance Pool was created in 1989 to give people an alternative if they were unable to obtain individual health insurance because of their medical history.

Implementation of the ACA and a guaranteed issue individual market has made high risk pools largely obsolete, but the South Carolina Health Insurance Pool is still operational and does not yet have plans to terminate coverage. HIPAA-eligible and TAA-eligible (Trade Adjustment and Assistance Act) enrollees can still obtain coverage in 2014. But although SCHIP is still available for these applicants, they can also get policies in the individual market now, without having to worry about pre-existing conditions.

State-based health reform legislation

South Carolina had quite a bit of legislation related to healthcare during this year’s session, including one bill – which passed the House but failed in the Senate – that would have prohibited “unconstitutional” aspects of the ACA from being implemented in the state. Here’s a summary of recent South Carolina bills related to healthcare reform: