Government
3:57 pm
Thu June 14, 2012

Advocates for poor say Medicaid cuts in Illinois will be disastrous

Critics say the effects of a series of measures that slash funding for Illinois' program of health care for the poor will be disastrous.

Gov. Pat Quinn signed the program -- which includes a $1 increase in the tax on a package of cigarettes to ease the deficit -- into law earlier this week.

Thousands of senior citizens are losing access to prescription drugs through the Illinois Cares Rx program. Adults will have to go without dental checkups. And 25,000 working parents will lose health coverage at the end of the month. Cigarette smokers also will be paying a dollar more per pack in taxes.

Barbara Franklin, President of the Illinois Alliance for Retired Americans, said eliminating Illinois Cares Rx will be devastating to more than 160,000 seniors and people with disabilities.

"Illinois Cares Rx is a cost-effective state program which saves costs immediately by preventing further acute illness, by keeping seniors out of hospitals and nursing homes and from needing to seek more expensive specialty care," Franklin said.

She said the Illinois Alliance for Retired Americans calls on the Illinois General Assembly to restore funding to Illinois Cares Rx through 2020 until the federal Affordable Care Act closes the Medicare Part D prescription drug coverage gap, known as the “doughnut hole.”

Quinn says that drastic cuts were the only option because the program was facing such huge deficits.

"We had to make some tough decisions that are necessary to protect our state from having a collapse of its entire Medicaid system," Quinn said.

William McNary is with the group Citizen Action, says cutting routine health services could drive people to use the emergency room or forego health care altogether.

"People will not get less sick because we make these cuts," McNary said. "As a matter of fact, in many cases it's going to drive up health care costs over time because some of the people who would seek preventive care will now seek after-the-fact care."

State Sen. Dave Syverson, R-Rockford, says the state is stretched too thin when it comes to providing Medicaid services.

"The system has exploded to the fact that there are three million people on our Medicaid system," he said.  There are people who are on the system that we believe don't need to be on it, and that's hurting the fact that we need to have a system there that helps the people who truly need the coverage.

The Medicaid savings and increased cigarette tax revenues were central to passing this year's state budget. Quinn says he'll take action on the overall spending plan by the end of the month.