By Meredith Colias
Doctors will have to pay more in fees so a state agency can continue to investigate and license them.
Senate Bill 622 passed on a 65-49 vote today, with two voting present. The legislation has already been approved by the Senate, and Gov. Pat Quinn plans to sign it. UPDATED FRIDAY MARCH 8: Gov. Quinn has signed the bill. The law and new fee took effect upon the governor's signature.
Because it was low on funds, the Department of Financial and Professional Regulation recently transferred 18 of the 26 staffers responsible for licensing physicians. Lower staffing levels created a backlog of applications and left fewer investigators to look into malpractice claims. If the licensing process remained funded at current levels, delays in processing were expected to be problematic for incoming medical students starting their residencies in July.
“Right now, they are hard-pressed to do anything in the arena because there are not resources in the department,”said the House bill’s sponsor, Rep. Barbara Flynn Currie, a Chicago Democrat. She said without a fee increase, the wait time for licenses could be up to a year.
SB 622 would borrow $6.6 million from the Local Government Tax Fund to cover immediate costs. The money would be repaid by 2018. Currently. doctors pay $300 every three years to be licensed in the state. The measure raises fees to $700 paid every three years through 2018 to allow the department to rehire cut staff and be able to repay borrowed funds. At that time, fees would drop to $500 every three years.
The increase would be the first time fees have been changed since 1987.
Currie cautioned that the plan might not be a long-term fix. She previously proposed increasing the fees to $750. Under her earlier plan, the fees would not have been reduced in 2018.
“This will not be a long-term solution to the problem. It will certainly get us over the immediate crisis,” she said. “It is not the long-term solution that the department has requested of us.”
The fund that the fees go into has been swept to bolster previous state budgets. Rep Jack Franks, a Woodstock Democrat, said protections should be built into the bill to protect it from more sweeps. He said doctors would be punished having to pay higher fees to fund an agency where the same issue could reoccur. “There’s nothing protecting where these same monies won’t be swept again. …What we have here amounts to double taxation.”
Susan Hofer, spokeswoman for the Department of Financial and Professional Regulation, said the agency was “relieved” it would be able to start speeding up the application process.
In a prepared statement, the Illinois Medical Society said the legislation is shortsighted. “Better solutions were left on the table.” The group has acknowledged that a fee increase is needed but also wants the money from the sweeps paid back.