As we reported, many progressives oppose Gov. Pat Quinn’s proposed $2.7 billion in Medicaid cuts, which, along with public employee pension changes, is the most consequential aspect of the governor’s ambitious budget cutting plan. Today, the disability advocacy group Access Living and Housing Action Illinois hosted a Web conference that instructed advocates on how to fight against Quinn’s cuts over the next month – the General Assembly is expected to vote on a fiscal-year budget by May 31.
Amber Smock, director of advocacy at Access Living, stressed the importance of constant interaction with lawmakers “to explain how cuts in Medicaid will affect people.” Smock urged advocates to work from both the inside and outside – attending Springfield lobby days, but also staging rallies beside the capital rotunda.
Smock added that while lawmakers are under pressure to make budget cuts, they are also afraid about cuts that would lead to dire situations – like increased emergency hospital visits.
Advocates should meet weekly with lawmakers, Smock said, and especially during the likely hectic Memorial Day weekend when “they are going to make very difficult decisions in terms of Medicaid and also pension reform.”
The wonky discussion of Medicaid provider rates and services offered for poor, elderly and disabled health care patients has transformed into a high stakes matter for Quinn and state legislators. “Medicaid has become a very hot political issue,” Smock says.
Smock laid out four advocate principals. Some of the 58 Medicaid line items Quinn wishes to eliminate or reduce will curb preventive care and lead to more emergency room visits; Medicaid reforms that the state enacted just last year need more time to work; Medicaid must be balanced by increased efficiencies – like more community provider care; and finally that the state has cut Medicaid for 20 years.
Illinois currently ranks 44th among states in Medicaid spending per patient.
The advocacy conference highlighted how Quinn’s focus this year on fiscal austerity has partly realigned the Democratic governor’s friends and foes. While community groups and organized labor currently oppose much of Quinn agenda’s, the Chicago Civic Federation, a prior critic of the governor’s spending, yesterday praised the governor’s budget.
A Civic Federation report on the state’s long-term deficit arguably animated the governor’s budget priorities.