Democratic Advisory Questions Address Important Issues
by Don Kohn.
The advisory questions on Tuesday’s Democratic Primary election ballot address two important issues that lawmakers in Columbia need to address and support – regardless of party affiliation.
The Advisory Questions
- Do you support passing a state law allowing doctors to prescribe medical marijuana to patients?
- Do you support passing a state law requiring the governor of South Carolina to accept all federal revenues offered to support Medicaid and Medicaid expansion efforts in the state?
An important component of the Affordable Care Act (ACA aka Obamacare) was the expansion of Medicaid to cover more low income Americans. Horry Democrats support this expansion in South Carolina to provide hardworking people with access to the medical care they need and deserve.
But Republicans who control state government have refused to take the federal funding provided to help pay for this, making South Carolina one of 19 states refusing to expand Medicaid under a 2012 Supreme Court decision that made this possible. SC Republicans would rather leave $15.8 billion in federal money on the table than provide coverage for more low-income South Carolinians simply because they are obsessed with dismantling Obamacare.
About 123,000 South Carolinians are in the “coverage gap” with no realistic access to health insurance. They are the state’s poorest residents, with incomes under the poverty level. They do not qualify for subsidies in the ACA exchanges, nor do they qualify for Medicaid. In many cases, they rely on emergency rooms and community health clinics, but future funding for those clinics also is in jeopardy.
New Work Requirements
Meanwhile, if you are poor and sick, but the least bit able-bodied, you better have a job or somehow be able to pay for your own health insurance, because if you don’t in South Carolina you will probably be kicked off of Medicaid.
Gov. Henry McMaster is seeking to require those covered by Medicaid to get or search for a job, volunteer or go to school in order to keep their coverage. An estimated 180,000 adults would be affected. McMaster promoted this idea during his bid for nomination for a new term.
The rules would be similar to what South Carolina requires for poor people to stay on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, SNAP, commonly referred to as food stamps.
There is no doubt that this proposal is politically driven as a way to satisfy Trump’s base of supporters and to bolster McMaster’s bid for the Republican nomination for governor. We believe this shows a true lack of understanding – or concern – of what people need and the causes of poverty. It is a cruel attempt to use the poor to score political points among right-wing hardliners.
Since the state must hold public hearings and take public comment before it can even submit its proposal to the federal government, the rules likely will not be implemented until at least July 2019.
The concept of making medical marijuana available to patients through prescriptions by physicians is gaining strength across the nation and hopefully will be approved by the SC state legislature in its next term.
There is bipartisan support, although legislation has so far been effectively blocked by opponents.
The latest bill allows the possession of up to two ounces of medical marijuana. It also establishes a regulated medical cannabis industry in SC so patients are not forced to seek medicine through illicit means.
Medical marijuana appears to be an effective way to combat opioid abuse and addiction, according to two scientific studies that indicate that some people who suffer from pain are turning to legalized marijuana rather than prescription drugs if given the choice. In 2016, 42,249 people died from opioid overdoses, which comes to 116 deaths every day, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. In addition, 11.5 million people misused opioids.
One study, published in Health Affairs, found that states that legalized medical marijuana, often recommended for chronic pain, anxiety or depression, saw declines in the number of Medicare prescriptions for drugs used to treat those conditions and reduced spending by Medicare Part D, which covers prescription medications.
Meanwhile, the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine says there’s sound evidence that cannabis effectively eases pain for some conditions. So, researchers decided to see if people with easy access to medical marijuana are less likely to use prescription opioids. The answer is “yes,” according to their report in JAMA Internal Medicine.
The researchers found a 14 percent reduction in opioid prescriptions in states that allow easy access to medical marijuana and estimated that these dispensary programs reduced the number of opioid prescriptions by 3.7 million daily doses. States that allowed homegrown marijuana for medical use also experienced an estimated 1.8 million fewer pills dispensed per day.
It’s time that South Carolina’s legislators address both of these issues. Medicaid needs to be made available to all who are eligible without undue restrictions and patients suffering from pain, PTSD, arthritis and other ailments should be able to use marijuana rather than harsh and expensive prescription drugs.
Of course, these results most likely will be ignored by U.S. Atty, Gen. Jeff Sessions whose opposition to marijuana — medical or otherwise — is well-documented, even though the Trump administration says it is serious in combatting the opioid crisis.