Wednesday, September 26, 2012

From the House

Bluffton Today Thank you very much to all who called in about last week’s column, especially the kind words about the Tom Herbkersman Commons. There were several more stories about what kind of man Tom was and how he will be remembered. The excellent pocket park is a great and lasting tribute to Tom’s life, and the dedication was very touching and emotional for my family. We are grateful. There was also a fair bit of commentary on the pushback from the Hospital Association over my comments on the Affordable Care Act. Let me just say that the healthcare conversation in our state, as well as in the nation, will continue to evolve for many years. Obamacare was so dramatic and so seemingly radical that the conversation became hyper-political almost instantaneously. As with so many issues that are emotional and involve so much of the economy, we are just going to have to keep at it until we are finally grappling with the true issues: how to provide a suitable level of care for our citizens; how and who will pay for it; and who will make the final decisions about allocation, quality control and cost control. I predict we will climb this mountain for a generation. The Bluffton/Jasper County Volunteers in Medicine (VIM) clinic in Bluffton is a local part of that national conversation. We are a compassionate people and we will not knowingly allow our most vulnerable residents to live without a level of basic care. VIM does great work and deserves our support. This is a roundabout way of reminding you that the Community Matching Grant Fundraiser for VIM is this Thursday (tomorrow) from 5:30 to 7 p.m. at the Pine House in Old Town Bluffton. Our hostess will be my good friend Joanie Heyward, who is rightfully famous for her hospitality and exquisite southern charm. There is already an impressive list of community leaders who have stepped up as sponsors, but donations at all levels will be gratefully accepted, even after the event. For more information, call Joanie at 757-3354 or email While we are in gratitude mode, we all owe a big thank you to Kim Jones of the Town of Bluffton, and her boss, Town Manager Anthony Barrett. The May River part of the Beach Sweep/River Sweep was a huge success, in large part due to the organizational efforts of Kim and all the good people who showed up last Saturday morning and did what needed to be done. I was there with my good friend and current Chairman of Beaufort County Council, Weston Newton. Weston is not only an aggressive trash picker, he is also the presumptive House of Representative member from the new District 120. Forgive me, but I felt a small twinge of pride in the event for reasons beyond the fact that my community comes out in force to protect what is ours. I was also proud that the Beaufort County Delegation, as part of the Coastal Caucus, played a big role in saving the Sea Grant Consortium, one of the overall sponsors of the clean-up. Folks, we simply must do what we can to save our rivers-- certainly the May River, but also the Colleton-Okatie River and the New River, and all the little tributaries that make up our amazingly productive watershed. As we get closer to the election, I will do a column on how the Beaufort County Rural and Critical Lands Preservation Program has been and will continue to be essential in protecting and preserving those areas of our community where development would be inappropriate. There is a referendum question on the November ballot and I want to make the case for an overwhelming YES vote.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

From thre House

Bluffton Today

Last week’s column generated a good bit of interest, not only locally, but from around the country. As you recall, I gave you some facts and figures we are working with in regard to the Affordable Healthcare Act (Obamacare). Most of the local comments were in favor of South Carolina’s likely non-participation. However, I did have a good conversation with a member of the Hospital Association who disagreed with that position. We had what is usually termed a “frank exchange of views” and agreed to disagree.

As I reviewed our chat, it occurred to me that our disagreement was not so much about the numbers and what they meant for the fiscal health of the state or the ability of our residents to access affordable health care, it was about how far into the future we were projecting. It also had to do with the different roles that government and private corporations should play in the economy.

Hospitals, and the companies that manage them, face their stockholders every quarter and are judged on their performance by how much profit or loss they realize. Our state has a much longer timeline. We also have an element that corporations rarely consider, which is the issue of sovereignty. In South Carolina, we have little desire to become essentially a part of the federal government’s healthcare regime. The dramatic expansion of Medicaid, even considering the federal match, will dominate our budget long after the enhanced transitional matching dollars are exhausted. Having said that, the conversation is still technically open. This legislator, however, would be mightily shocked if we, after all, were to embrace Obamacare in anything remotely close to its present configuration.

Continuing in the healthcare vein, I want to remind you that a week from tomorrow is the Community Matching Grant Fundraiser for the Bluffton/Jasper County Volunteers in Medicine. It is Thursday, Sept. 27th, from 5:30 to 7:00 at the Pine House, which is the lovingly restored, historic home of my good friend, Joanie Heyward. The Pine House is at the very southern tip (appropriately) of Boundary Street in Old Town Bluffton. A lot of good folks worked a long time to make our Volunteers in Medicine clinic a reality. This is an excellent opportunity to make a difference in our community while also having a fine party in a beautiful place.

For sponsorship information, please give Joanie a call at 757-3354 or email

Finally, I want to thank the many good people who attended the dedication of the Tom Herbkersman Commons, and the grand opening of the Hilton Head Island/Bluffton Chamber of Commerce office. Both are located at the four-way stop in Old Town Bluffton, or what Chamber CEO Bill Miles characterized as “the corner of Main and Main” in Bluffton.

It was an emotional event for me, and the many members of my family in attendance as we heard speakers recall with fondness the many good qualities of my late brother Tom. We are especially indebted to my great friend, Mayor Lisa Sulka as she shared stories of Tom’s kindness and resolute support when I decided that I should run for the statehouse over a decade ago. It was Tom who originally envisioned the pocket park on the parcel our family donated at the southeast corner of the Promenade. Tom and I, along with Bluffton Assistant Manager, Marc Orlando, drew the original design for the park on a napkin over lunch at Capt. Woody’s. Tom would have been pleased.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

From the House

Bluffton Today

Much of last week was spent in Charleston in Ways and Means and other legislative business meetings. In a prudent measure, we as a committee are seeking to get smarter about the Affordable Care Act, how our state looks to meet the general healthcare challenge, and what our position should be relative to the Healthcare Act.

Currently, South Carolina Medicaid’s monthly enrollment is around 937,000 people. The Department of Health and Human Services projects that very soon our program will top the 1 million mark, which means roughly one in five South Carolinians are Medicaid recipients. We should note that Medicaid pays for about half of the births in our state, as well as a huge portion of the nursing home care received by our disabled and seniors. With the aging of the Baby Boom generation, we see this segment of the program expanding dramatically. As of today, our Medicaid match accounts for 18 percent of our general funds and nearly 25 percent of our total funds.

Despite the virtual avalanche of information on the Affordable Healthcare Act made available as a few paragraphs of the Act came into play, it is still widely seen as a mysterious behemoth. It is 2000 pages of highly specific, densely written legislation with many parts still to be articulated. It was signed into law March 30, 2010, as the largest reform to American healthcare since the passage of Title 119 of the Social Security Act, which created Medicare/Medicaid. It is an expanded coverage. Our state joined with 24 others to challenge the constitutionality of the law, 11 states supported the law, while 12 took no position.

On June 28, the US Supreme Court published its opinion on the Act. The two prevailing findings were that the individual mandate was a tax, and therefore is constitutional, and the federal government cannot withhold Medicaid matching funds if states choose to expand or not.

Where does this leave South Carolina?
Even without expansion, Medicaid in South Carolina will grow by the Act to an additional $160 million. That is $75 million for inflation enrollment for growth, $25 million for eligible but not enrolled resulting from the Act, $52 million from reduced cigarette funding, and $8 million supplement loss of tobacco allocation funds. While mine is only one vote and one opinion, at this juncture, I believe we will say NO to the Affordable Healthcare Act. Having said that, we are about to elect a huge number of federal officials. In addition, the new Congress will be charged with filling in many of the gaps in the current law. Even the repeal of the whole law is not unthinkable if the stars align.

However, as a prudent body, Ways and Means will continue to study and weigh what is best for our citizens, what is best for our state, and ultimately where the future of our nation is headed. But friends, if I were to place a wager on the matter, you probably can guess my inclination. Regardless, check this space in your Wednesday Bluffton Today for periodic updates.

A reminder that tomorrow is the dedication of the Tom Herbkersman Commons, as well as the opening of the new offices of the HHI/ Bluffton Chamber of Commerce offices at the four way stop in Old Town Bluffton. The little pocket park is jewel, with comfortable benches under shade trees, with an interesting mapping feature which says a lot about how we feel about our community. Try to arrive a little before 11 for some refreshments, then brief remarks at 11, followed by BBQ. Tom would have loved it.