Quick Hit Matthew Blake Thursday September 20th, 2012, 5:31pm

State May Need To Cut More To Achieve $1.6 Billion In Medicaid Savings

A dispute between Gov. Pat Quinn and Illinois Republicans on the pace of implementing a Medicaid eligibility verification system raises the larger issue of whether the state can actually cut a total of $1.6 billion from Medicaid.

Quinn and lawmakers have projected that a verification system, operated by a private contractor, would save $350 million by kicking recipients off the rolls who no longer reside in Illinois, earn too much income to qualify for Medicaid, or can alternatively enroll in Medicare.

House Minority Leader Tom Cross (R-Oswego) and Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno (R-Lemont) claimed Monday that Quinn should have the verification system up by October, but is instead hoping to delay implementation until after the November elections. At a press conference yesterday, Quinn called the assertion “complete baloney,” saying that the administration is “going out full speed” to implement Medicaid laws.

State Sen. Heather Steans (D-Chicago), who headed up a bipartisan Medicaid Legislative Advisory Committee, says that, contrary to GOP claims, the administration is, in fact, moving fast.

But Steans acknowledges that $350 million is a “stretch” figure that the state might not achieve. Quinn spokesman Mike Claffey, of the state Department of Health Care and Family Services, says that implementation of the verification system will not begin until January 1, six months after the fiscal year’s start.

Claffey states that, “The $350 million is a very aggressive target set by the legislature, and we are going to do our best to meet it.”

According to both Steans and Sara Wojcicki, spokeswoman for Cross, the state could make additional Medicaid cuts this winter to hit the overall $1.6 billion in savings.

Legislation to wipe out a $2.7 billion liability in Medicaid, the federal-state health care program for the poor, elderly and disabled, has been probably Quinn’s signature legislative achievement this year. The governor worked with Republicans, like Cross, and fellow party members, like Speaker of the House Mike Madigan (D-Chicago), to pass through the General Assembly five separate pieces of Medicaid legislation.

One of these bills outlined $1.6 billion in cuts through both a reduction in benefits, such as the elimination of a senior prescription drug program funded through Medicaid, and improved efficiencies, like the verification system. (The other major bill raises the cigarette tax by $1-a-pack, which the state projects will generate $700 million in revenue.)

Quinn signed the bills into law on June 14, stating the legislation will “rescue the state’s Medicaid system from the brink of collapse.”

One month later, the state posted a notice with requirements for an eligibility verification contractor. According to Claffey, on September 13 the Quinn administration inked a deal with Virginia-based Maximus Health Services, Inc. Claffey states that the company must now rapidly establish a call center and hire staff.

Cross spokeswoman Wojcicki says she does not understand why these logistical issues will take months to figure out. Pressed as to what the state should do differently, Wojcicki says that the governor could have started the verification system “a long time ago.”

Verification system aside, Claffey says the “vast majority” of Medicaid cost-saving measures are already implemented. To the frustration of some progressives, though, many of these money-saving measures simply deny people health care for which they previously qualified. This includes the elimination of the aforementioned senior prescription drug program, Illinois Cares Rx.

Also, the state has eliminated government-provided health coverage for 26,000 adults whose income puts them above 133 percent of the federal poverty level.


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