Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Missed opportunity

The Illinois comptroller’s office says the state missed the boat in early April to do three things at once: 1) reduce its backlogged Medicaid bills by half, 2) activate the second half of a program that distributes federal dollars to hospitals that care for Medicaid patients, and 3) repay a $900 million loan that kick-started that program. Statehouse reporter Doug Finke wrote about it in Wednesdays’ State Journal-Register. I talked to Carol Knowles, spokeswoman for Comptroller Dan Hynes, Wednesday morning.

About $747 million in federal Medicaid funds are sitting unused until the Department of Healthcare and Family Services gets legislative approval to spend that money, according to Keith Taylor, Hynes’ chief of staff. He said in an April 4 letter to the department director Barry Maram that the federal money could be tapped to pay $650 million of the state’s backlogged Medicaid bills due to health care providers. But the comptroller can’t pay those Medicaid bills without the department submitting the invoices to Hynes’ office. Taylor’s letter said the department was holding more than $1 billion in Medicaid obligations.

“We can’t pay bills that they haven’t sent to us,” Knowles said. “It’s difficult when you’re sitting on more than $1 billion worth of bills everyday and you can’t bring that down. And that, in the end, winds up costing the state more money in interest. Why would they want to do that?”

Department spokeswoman Amy Rosenband wasn’t able to call me back before this post and before I head off to committee meetings, so I’ll add her response once I get it.

In a follow-up letter April 24, Taylor said the comptroller’s office was “extremely disappointed” that the department didn’t respond to the request. The timing was sensitive given the June 7 deadline for the state to repay its $900 million loan. The General Assembly also still has time to approve the spending authority needed to start the second year of the hospital assessment program. In fact, I’ll be in a House committee this afternoon that is expected to discuss a supplemental budget, which would give the spending authority needed for the program.

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