What former Sanford Health CEO Kelby Krabbenhoft has to do with South Dakota's Medicaid expansion fight

Kelby Krabbenhoft abruptly exited Sioux Falls, S.D.-based Sanford Health in November 2020, days after he sent an email to employees explaining his stance against face masks. Now the former president and CEO is expected to be a symbolic face for opposition to Medicaid expansion.

Roughly one year after Mr. Krabbenhoft's departure, Forum News Service reported on federal tax documents showing he received a payout topping $49 million. 

"The majority of the compensation paid to Mr. Krabbenhoft upon his departure was contractually obligated as part of retirement plans over his 24-year tenure," Sanford Health shared in a statement with media. "The remainder was Mr. Krabbenhoft's annual compensation and a severance agreement."

It's that payout that stands to play a key part in Medicaid expansion opponents' messaging. 

While Mr. Krabbenhoft is not campaigning against the policy himself, his compensation is expected to be a central part of the campaign against November's ballot measure, Jonathan Ellis wrote in an op-ed for the Sioux Falls daily newspaper Argus Leader.

"The line of attack is a natural: Ads featuring Krabbenhoft and the money he made with the question to voters: Do you really want to give hospital executives more money? Because that's what Medicaid expansion could do," Mr. Ellis wrote in his column. He noted that while no ads have run yet regarding Mr. Krabbenhoft, the expected line of attack will be "devastating" for the ballot measure. 

Proponents in South Dakota face a long road before Medicaid expansion is put before voters in November, starting with a proposed amendment to the state constitution scheduled for the June primary election ballot. Called Amendment C, it  would require three-fifths majorities for any ballot measure that raises taxes or fees by $10 million over five years. Last month, two South Dakota residents filed a legal challenge contesting Amendment C.

If it stands, Amendment C could thwart the possibility of a November vote for Medicaid expansion in South Dakota, one of 12 states to not adopt expansion. 

"With Krabbenhoft as the featured player for the opposition, getting to 60 percent would seem impossible," Mr. Ellis wrote. 

Grassroots network Dakotans for Health, South Dakota AFL-CIO and Great Plains Tribal Chairmen's Association partnered for the Medicaid expansion ballot measure and are leading a campaign opposing Amendment C. 

Read Mr. Ellis' column in full from the Argus Leader

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