SD Senate Committee pass possible amendment dealing with Medicaid benefits

PIERRE, S.D. (SDBA) — South Dakota voters would get a chance to “clarify” if they meant for low-income people to have to work to receive Medicaid benefits passed in the 2022 general election.

The Senate State Affairs Committee passed SJR501 on a 7 to 1 vote this morning (Wednesday).

Resolution sponsor, Republican Rep. Tony Venhuizen (vin-high-sen) of Sioux Falls, said he did not think it was clear if voters understood that the state constitutional amendment they passed expanding Medicaid did not have a work requirement for non-disabled people.

“I do not believe this was the central issue that the voters were considering,” Venhuizen testified. “It certainly wasn’t discussed in the advertising. When you have a ballot measure, the question is yes or no.”

Opponents of the resolution took issue with Venhuizen’s assertion.

“We believe this argument is unfair to voters that cast their ballots in 2022,” said Eric Nelson, lobbyist for AARP. “AARP South Dakota held multiple events for the 50-plus population across South Dakota throughout 2022 to educate voters on amendment D. Part of our presentation explained that Medicaid expansion enrollees would have the same benefits and parameters as the traditional Medicaid population.”

Venhuizen and other proponents argued that the changes to the state constitution on Medicaid would not mandate a work requirement but would allow it if the federal government and the state legislature approved it in the future.

“But what we are proposing is to give South Dakota the flexibility to respond if and when that option becomes available,” Venhuizen said. “This is step one. This does not create a work requirement.”

Opponents said, nevertheless, that studies show that work requirements don’t work because they are bureaucratic and can delay people getting coverage. Further, according to the studies, more people do not end up working.

At one point in the hearing, Democratic Sen. Reynold Nesiba from Sioux Falls angrily asked Venhuizen, “How many more staff are you going to have to hire at DSS (Department of Social Services) so we can kick people off of healthcare?”

Venhuizen deferred to DSS Secretary Matt Althoff.

“I think experience is going to help drive us,” he said.

Althoff said he couldn’t know how many more full-time employees the department would need if a work requirement were implemented. The department hired 60 new employees to handle the expansion. Althoff said about 18,000 South Dakotans have applied for the expanded Medicaid program. The department had predicted 57,000, but applications have been coming in slower than expected.

SJR501 now moves to the Senate floor. The state constitutional amendment would go on the 2024 ballot if passed by the legislature.