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Illinois Bracing for a Medicaid Crisis

February 6, 2012

CHICAGO - When Gov. Quinn unveils his new budget in a couple of weeks, many people are hoping he will propose a plan for controlling the skyrocketing cost of Medicaid. The Civic Federation predicts that in five years the state's pile of unpaid Medicaid bills will grow to $21 billion, and Illinois' Healthcare and Family Services Secretary Julie Hamos has warned that something needs to be done to avert a crisis.

The Rev. Denver Bitner agrees. He is president of Lutheran Social Services of Illinois (LSSI). He says it is hard to provide services to needy Illinoisans when the state is at least $2 million behind in Medicaid payments to his agency alone.

"As we are budgeting for the coming year, we're looking at these things getting worse; at every turn, it becomes very difficult."

Some say instead of fee-for-services, the state could save money by moving to managed care for Medicaid. Others are calling for tougher Medicaid eligibility requirements or reducing payments to doctors and providers.

Bitner says he understands that changes need to be made, but in this economy he says it's not practical to throw people off the Medicaid program.

"There are efficiencies they need to look at. Somebody going into a hospital or going into a jail is much more expensive than providing them care now."

LSSI has received only minimal Medicaid reimbursements for its long-term care facilities since last June. Bitner says that's not good for anyone.

"At some point it means that we will have to not provide services."

A spokesman for the state says that seniors and people with disabilities account for 60 percent of the costs of Medicaid. According to Access Living of Metropolitan Chicago, an advocacy group for people with disabilities, Illinois could save a lot of money by providing in-home care for people on Medicaid rather than keeping them in nursing homes and institutions.

Bitner says eventually the state needs to look for comprehensive budget and tax reform so that vital services do not suffer.

Mary Anne Meyers, Public News Service - IL