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Low-income Chicago residents brace for Medicaid cuts

Date: 
06/07/2012

From the Austin Weekly News:

Low-income Chicago residents brace for Medicaid cuts

Community health advocates urge Quinn to veto or postpone law’s passage

By A. JABARI JEFFERSON

Medill News Service

June 6, 2012

If Gov. Pat Quinn signs the controversial measure that would cut $1.6 billion from Medicaid, more than 160,000 low-income residents throughout the state stand to feel the impact of reduced health care.

In a press statement, Quinn praised members of the General Assembly "who rose to the occasion to save our Medicaid system from the brink of collapse." Quinn has yet to announce when he will sign the bill, which was passed in the General Assembly on May 25.

Lynda DeLaforgue, co-director with Citizen Action Illinois, contends that the $1.6 billion cut would affect low-income senior citizens, low-income disabled people and low-income families.

"This really impacts a vulnerable population that does not always have a strong voice in the state legislature," she said.

The new law would eliminate both Illinois Cares Rx and Family Care plans on July 1. Illinois Cares Rx assists seniors and disabled people with prescription drug co-pays. Chicago produces the highest enrollment in this service.

The Family Care program allowed health coverage for families living under 185 percent of the federal poverty level. About 26,000 people would lose insurance due to the cut, as the law changes the standard to families living under 133 percent of the federal poverty level.

DeLaforgue anticipates that "we're going to see a lot of very vulnerable people" getting sicker because "they didn't get access to prescriptions they needed."

The Medicaid cut also would substantially reduce adult dental services. Despite having low numbers of dentists who accept Medicaid, it provides oral health care for Illinois residents in the hundreds of thousands, according to Nadeen Israel, a policy associate with Heartland Alliance for Human Need and Human Rights.

Israel said that close to 80 percent of the participants that Heartland Alliance saw for the adult dental program were pregnant women. She added that services would be reduced to urgent care.

"What that translates to is, basically, extraction," said Israel, who estimates that the reduction in services would impact 171,000 people.

Advocates are calling on Quinn to use his amendatory power to either veto the bill or extend the deadline to Jan. 1, 2013.

"There's no way that the service-providing community can work with 160,000 people within 30 days and ensure that they're going to have a risk-free transition," DeLaforgue said.

The longer Quinn waits to sign the bill, the less time the service providers would have to transition clients.

Mattoon state Sen. Dale Righter, who supported the bill, warned his colleagues of the greater risk faced by a $2.7 billion Medicaid deficit.

"The higher our stack of unpaid bills is, the longer providers have to wait to be paid," he said, speaking on the senate floor before the bill was approved. The financial delinquency, according to Righter, would lead to providers dropping Medicaid all together.

DeLaforgue, however, disagreed with the General Assembly's passage of SB 2840. By cutting public health care to low-income people, DeLaforgue argues that emergency room visits would increase, and that costs would be passed on to those with private health care.

"Rather than make cuts which are going to hurt this particular population, they could have looked at the most egregious corporate tax loopholes," she said. "These are things that prevent more serious and more expensive health risks down the line."