Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Medicaid matters

By Patrick O'Brien
Increases in Medicaid payments to doctors would cost Illinois at least $300 million a year, according to testimony at a Senate committee today. A measure attempts to increase the rate at which the state reimburses doctors at a time when payments already are delayed.

At the same time, Senate Republicans made some noise about the Democratic leadership blocking two bills of Sen. Carole Pankau, a Roselle Republican, from being heard in committee. Both measures seek to tighten requirements for Medicaid. One asks for income verification, and one would make it more difficult for undocumented immigrants to receive All Kids benefits, except in emergencies.

Pankau said there was no valid reason for the bills to be blocked and called the move a violation of trust. The move by Senate Democrats was made 20 minutes before a series of witnesses were scheduled to testify in committee.

The increased reimbursements to doctors weren’t met with the warmest reaction, either.

Sen. Susan Garrett, a Lake Forest Democrat, said the measure won’t help pay doctors more as the state struggles to match sagging revenues with increasing demand for health care services. “If there’s no money here to make the payments, even though we owe more money, all we’re going to do to keep up with payments is to slow down the process,” she said.

Sen. Dale Righter, a Mattoon Republican, said the state already is attempting to expand state-sponsored health care faster than it can afford to, given the state’s current budget deficit. He cited an estimate by the bipartisan Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability that projects a $750 million deficit for the current fiscal year.

Estimates from the commission put revenue growth for the next budget year below $700 million. Increased Medicaid reimbursements, then, could eat up that entire amount if enacted, according to both supporters and opponents of the measure.

Righter also said that as doctors continue to wait for state Medicaid payments, access to health care would get more difficult as doctors stop practicing in Illinois or stop taking Medicaid patients altogether.

The never-ending wait for school construction money
By Bethany Jaeger
Nearly one year ago, legislators thought they were closer to releasing state funds to clear a five-year waiting list of nearly two dozen schools that needed money for major construction projects. Despite receiving legislative approval to do so last year, funding was withheld based on an unexpected “technicality” that was more rooted in politics.

The House again approved a measure that would release $150 million that has been held hostage since 2002. “This is a tarnish and a shame on the state of Illinois, the fact that we’re going on six years now, this state could not keep a promise to the school children in these communities,” said Rep. Roger Eddy, a Hutsonville Republican and school superintendent.

Rep. Lisa Dugan, the Bradley Democrat sponsoring the legislation, said the measure only deals with the $150 million for school construction, nothing else that could deter the governor from signing it into law.

The measure now goes to the Senate.

Budget hearings
Decatur held the first of 19 regional budget hearings across the state called for by House Speaker Michael Madigan. The meetings could be the start of another contentious budget battle as lawmakers seek to highlight concerns about Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s proposed budget.

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