The Illinois House voted Wednesday to restore several cuts to Medicaid and to tack more than $1 billion in spending onto the current fiscal year’s budget.
Senate Bill 741 would rollback several Medicaid program reductions that were cut under sweeping Medicaid reforms approved in 2012. The bill would restore podiatry services and preventative dental care for adults. It would lift the four-prescription limit for people with “severe mental illness.” It would also remove the limit on the number of physical therapy sessions patients can access. The bill allows for more funding for programs that care for children with extensive medical needs, such as those on ventilators. “We are restoring this simply because we have found out from experience that these cuts actually did not save us money. They cost the people of the state of Illinois more money, and they brought suffering and hardship to families. They brought overutilization to our emergency departments and interfered with the delivery of health care to other patients in need,” said Chicago Democratic Rep. Greg Harris, who sponsored the bill. The restorations would cost $221 million upfront. However, the spending would bring in federal matching funds, so Harris said the net cost would be about $125 million in general revenue funding.
Opponents questioned rolling back changes to Medicaid that were put in place to ensure that the system remained sustainable at a time when the state was pushing billions of Medicaid bills from one fiscal year into the next. The reforms now bar the state from shoveling Medicaid bills into future fiscal years. “How are we going to pay for that, and how are we going to sustain the system for the people who need it most?” Rep. Patricia Bellock asked on the House floor.
Those who have advocated to restore the cuts argue that they do not save the state money in the long run because Medicaid patients are forced to skip preventative care but later call on the system once their health deteriorates into an emergency situation. Chicago Democratic Rep. Mary Flowers said that a lack of dental care means missed wages when Medicaid patients stay home from work with tooth pain and missed opportunities when dental problems, such as missing teeth, keep them from making a good first impression at job interviews. “Access to dental services—like filling, cavities, root canals, dentures—means that the most vulnerable in our state will not need to suffer from unnecessary pain,” she said.
Harris also sponsored House Bill 6060, which would add $1.8 billion in spending during the current fiscal year. Around $1 billion would go toward paying down old bills, and $600 million of that would go to Medicaid, triggering federal matching funds. The backlog stands at about $4.7 billion now. The money comes from new revenue that came in this year above projections for Fiscal Year 2014.
The House also reapproved ongoing capital construction projects for next fiscal year and tacked some new spending on, while they were at it. The new spending includes:
- $13 million for sewage treatment and water projects.
- $10 million grant to the Uptown Theatre in Chicago.
- $40 million for school construction projects outside of Chicago.
- $35 million to Chicago Public Schools for school construction projects.
- $50 million for back pay to state employees in the departments of Public Health, Human Services, Corrections, Juvenile Justice and Natural Resources. The money would cover about half the cost of deferred raises that the state owes employees.
- $50 million for the Chicago teachers pension fund.
Chicago Democratic Rep. Barbara Flynn Currie, who sponsored HB 3793, said that the money for the additional spending would come from revised revenue estimates for Fiscal Year 2015 and funds left from the sale of the state’s 10th casino license.
The measure did not have a standard committee hearing and came to the floor just hours after the amendment that contains the spending was filed. “We need to pass this bill if we want to make good on the commitments and promises we have earlier made,” Currie said of the spending that was part of the ongoing capital program. Republicans called the vote on the more than 1,000-page-bill rushed and argued that they did not have time to know what the legislation contained “We’re making a substantive vote with very little time to vet this vote,” said Downers Grove Republican Rep. Ron Sandack. “We seem to continue to do the wrong thing the wrong way, so I guess that’s consistency if nothing else.”
House Speaker Mike Madigan also released his hold on the House budget bills approved yesterday, and they have been read into the record in the Senate. That means that the Senate could technically pass the budget and—as many in the Statehouse have been speculating—the spring session could adjourn a day early on Friday. However, such rumors always run rampant at this time of year. And so far, that possibility falls into the rumor category.