Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Advocates: Quinn's Medicaid cuts would hurt patients and economy

By Ashley Griffin

Advocacy groups have begun their push back against Gov. Quinn’s proposed Medicaid cuts.

 A new report released by the Campaign for Better Health Care and Families USA — both nonprofit health care advocacy organizations — claims that the proposed cuts by Quinn would not only hurt some of Illinois’ most vulnerable citizens, but the cuts would also have a drastic impact on the state’s economy. 

“If Medicaid is cut, it would not lessen the number of people who will be needing health care, and it would not lessen the number of people who will be utilizing health care,” said Jim Duffett, executive director the Campaign for Better Health Care.

Last week, Quinn proposed a plan to defer $2.7 billion in Medicaid growth. His proposal would cut $1.35 billion by eliminating or reducing services and finding efficiencies. Health care providers would also take a $675 million hit in rate reductions for the services they provide under the program. 

The report states: “Cutting Medicaid can generate some short-term savings, but there is a cost. There is a cost in terms of unmet medical need and increased sickness for those who lose coverage. There is a cost to children who, lacking medical care, fall behind in school. There is an economic cost in terms of lost jobs and reduced business activity.”

 The report found that an 18 percent cut, the total reduction in Medicaid spending the group says Quinn is proposing, would put more than 25,000 jobs at risk. The group said Quinn’s proposal would also result in $3.2 billion lost in business activity statewide.

 “These are real people, real jobs, real patients, real communities that are tremendously facing harm. The cuts of the magnitude that are being proposed, we estimate roughly an 8 percent across the board [to providers], is really just way too far, what we are trying to do in filling up a $2.7 billion spending gap is unprecedented in its size and scale, and we really need to appreciate the type of impact that level of cuts is going to have, not only on the economy but on real people,” Maryjane Wurth, president & CEO of the Illinois Hospital Association, said at a news conference highlighting the report.

 Instead of proposed cuts, such as the elimination of adult dental care and Illinois Care Rx, a prescription drug program that helps low-income seniors pay for their medicine, the groups advocate expanding coordinated care in the Medicaid program to improve access. The groups also support the idea of creating more programs that could possibly get matching dollars from the federal government. 

“Hospitals are working very hard on moving to integrated care, care coordination, so that people get the right care at the right time with the right outcomes with the lowest cost. We should be investing  —  we need to be maximizing federal revenue to the state. Right now, for every dollar that is cut in Medicaid, we simply hand back a dollar to the federal government. This is a time when, in the Illinois challenge, that we should be maximizing every single legitimate dollar that this state can achieve,” said Wurth.

 But Quinn believes the cuts are necessary for the state to catch up on its backlog of Medicaid bills. Quinn said the growing stack of unpaid Medicaid bills — which he says would reach $4.6 billion by the end of Fiscal Year 2013 if no action is taken — makes reductions in the program necessary. He said those in opposition to his proposals are ignoring that reality.

 “We have to save the system in order to have a system. It is on the verge of collapse,” Quinn told the editorial board of the Springfield State Journal-Register today. Quinn said he is open to negotiating Medicaid changes as long as they would result in a $2.7 billion reduction in liability for next fiscal year.

 However, Quinn said that the goal cannot be reached solely by removing Medicaid patients who are on the rolls but not eligible. Proposals from organizations representing hospitals have relied heavily on that tactic as a means to cut Medicaid costs, but Quinn said he thinks their savings estimates are off. “I think there’s a few numbers that are just drawn out of the air here,” Quinn said. “We don’t think they’re correct. We think they’re fanciful numbers.’

 But the one thing Quinn and many advocates agree on is a $1-a-pack cigarette tax increase to avoid some cuts. Quinn estimates the proposed increase would bring in $337.5 million, plus another $337.5 million in federal matching funds.

 “We didn’t get into this hole overnight. It took years to get here; it will take more than one year to get out. By considering such common sense revenue solutions, for example, such as a cigarette tax, we would be well on our way on beginning to raise the revenue that is needed to go against these cuts,” said William McNary, co-director of the Citizen Action Illinois, an advocacy group that joined social services organizations to protest Quinn’s proposal at the Statehouse today.

 However, Republicans have come out hard against the cigarette tax plan. Quinn said he would work to lobby lawmakers on the idea.

 “I would hope that both [chambers] don’t have some sort of caucus position against doing something that’s in the best interest for the people — for their health [and] for investing in Medicaid,” Quinn said. “We’ll be talking to member of the legislature and reminding people of how they voted [on cigarette tax increases] in the past.”


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