A White House official called for conservative South Carolina leaders to accept federal money that would expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act.

Josh Earnest, White House special assistant to the president and principal deputy press secretary, speaking on a call with reporters Tuesday, blamed Gov. Nikki Haley’s Republican administration for holding Medicaid expansion “hostage” in this state.

“We have seen Republican leaders in other states take the actions necessary to expand access in their states,” Earnest said.

While he acknowledged there have been “significant challenges and problems” with the Obamacare roll-out, Medicaid expansion, which is only optional under the law, has been a “bright spot,” Earnest said.

The federal government has agreed to fully fund Medicaid expansion in states that opt-in through 2017. After that, each participating state needs to help cover some of those costs, but never more than 10 percent.

State leaders here have rejected the option to expand the low-income health insurance entitlement program. The White House estimates that 198,000 South Carolinians would qualify for Medicaid through 2016 if the state expanded the program.

South Carolina isn’t the only state opting out — 24 other states have said ‘no’ to the federal money, too.

“It’s pretty unbelievable that at a time when the nightmare of Obamacare is unraveling in front of the entire nation’s eyes, this White House is redoubling its efforts to get South Carolina to buy into their disaster,” said Haley spokesman Doug Mayer in a prepared statement.

U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., also issued a statement following the call.

“Given all the problems they have created, you would think the White House would be trying to plug some of the holes in this sinking ship known as Obamacare. Instead, they are out there recruiting more people to come on board. We shouldn’t buy a ticket on the Titanic.”

South Carolina Minority Leader Rep. Todd Rutherford, D-Columbia, and S.C. Rep. Mandy Powers Norrell, D-Lancaster, also participated in the White House call. Both spoke in favor of expanding the Medicaid program here.

About 1 million South Carolinians are already enrolled in Medicaid.

A similar White House press call was held on Monday calling for Medicaid expansion in Maine.

Reach Lauren Sausser at 937-5598.