General Assembly Approves Massive Medicaid Cuts

May 25, 2012

The General Assembly has overwhelmingly approved steep cuts to Medicaid, Illinois' system of health care for the poor.   Backers of the cuts say they are a long-overdue correction for a program that has grown out of control.

The list of cuts is long and varied: people will only be able to get one pair of eyeglasses per year.

Adults will no longer be eligible to visit chiropractors or podiatrists. And dental services will be limited to emergency extractions.

Hospitals, nursing homes and other providers also take a haircut: the state's lowering reimbursements to them for treating poor patients..

But the push to control costs won the day.

"The damage is too severe. The backlog of bills is way too heavy. Ladies and gentlemen, the floor is falling out beneath the people that you're talking about,"  said Senator Dale Righter, a Republican from Mattoon.

Governor Pat Quinn released a statement saying he supported the package of cuts. He's also urging legislators to finish the job by passing a dollar-a-pack tax increase on cigarettes. 

Representative Mary Flowers, a Chicago Democrat, wondered why the state's leaders focused on Medicaid when looking to solve the budget problems.

"I don't know where it's written in the law that this has to be balanced off the backs of poor people. Off the backs of seniors. Off the backs of the aged, blind, and disabled. I haven't seen that in the years that I've been down here," said Flowers.

 African-American lawmakers  say the state shouldn't balance its budget on the backs of its most vulnerable citizens.  

Senator James Meeks, a Chicago Democrat and the pastor of a Baptist church, framed the cuts as a social-justice issue. He called the proposal a "moral disgrace.

"Are there people, who really need these services, that once we push that green light, are we pushing people into the grave?" said Meeks.

The legislation now goes to Governor Pat Quinn, who has pushed for Medicaid cuts for months. 

Cuts Part of Broader Package

Another complex component also headed to the governor's desk would allow Cook County to grab more federal money by actually signing up new Medicaid patients.  County officials say it will cost the state nothing and actually save the county money in the long run.