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What health reform means for the people of Illinois

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Friday, May 25, 2012

Safety Net Hospitals Spared, But Not Much Else in Medicaid Bills

Although Medicaid is a state & federal program, the City of Chicago got involved in the raging debate in Springfield. On Tuesday, May 22, 2012, Alderman George Cardenas (12th Ward) called a meeting of the Chicago City Council Committee on Health and Environmental Protection to discuss the way Governor Quinn’s proposed Medicaid cuts would affect medical care providers, specifically Safety Net Hospitals. Those hospitals have a client base that is primarily those without insurance, or those insured via Medicaid, which puts the hospitals in a position to be disproportionately affected by any Medicaid cuts.

Hospital CEOs, including those representing St. Anthony's, Mercy Hospital and Norwegian American Hospital and others, and community leaders including Metropolitan Chicago Healthcare Council, Health & Disability Advocates, Catalyst Schools, Lawndale Christian Development Center and the National Latino Education Institute, testified in front of the committee. Each person spoke about the impact of the cuts to their constituencies. The cuts would not only mean a loss of accessible healthcare in Chicago communities but also a steep decline in jobs, as many of the hospitals fuel the economic engine in the communities they serve.

Turns out some of the voices were heard: SB 2840, the final Medicaid budget bill (Named the "Save Medicaid Access and Resources Together (SMART) Act"), softens the original blow—sparing safety net hospitals from proposed provider reimbursement cuts, and lowering cuts overall from $240 million a year instead of $675 million. Passed by both houses on May 24, 2012, it will go to the Governor's desk for signature and will most likely be signed.

Unfortunately, many other health care programs for low income people and those with disabilities in Illinois were not spared in the bill. A full list can be found here, but the cuts include:
  • Elimination of Illinois Cares Rx
  • Family Care Eligibility reduction to 133% FPL (from 185%-400% FPL)
  • Elimination of General Assistance Medical
  • Adult Dental Eliminated (except in emergencies)
  • 4 Prescription per month limit
These cuts will be devastating to many vulnerable populations and advocates are gearing up for the anxious phone calls from clients and providers.

The one silver lining in yesterday's legislative action is that the Cook County 1115 waiver (HB 5007) passed both houses which will allow Cook County Health and Hospital System to expand access to care for about 250,000 low income adults (below 138% FPL) in the area. Under the Affordable Care Act, their health insurance will be covered by the federal government so this will save the State $36 million per year. Of course, this is dependent on the Supreme Court upholding the ACA. Assuming it does, this early expansion of Medicaid is a huge kickstart toward ACA implementation in Illinois.

One baby step forward, two giant steps back:

So, while we mourn the Medicaid losses in SB 2840, we need to celebrate the gains in HB 5007. Nevertheless, it's important to keep talking about the life-threatening and costly implications of the stunning loss of access to affordable, quality health care that will be triggered by the signing of this "SMART" law. We also need to share clear information about the potential benefits of implementation of the Affordable Care Act, even though the ACA will not completely undo the economic cost and harm set forth in yesterday's decision.

Stephani Becker
Health & Disability Advocates, project director of Illinois Health Matters


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