Clip files / Local news from the states

This column features selected short items about state health care policy.

Illinois may borrow $1.5 billion for overdue Medicaid bills

SPRINGFIELD, IL—Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s administration has reached a tentative agreement with state comptroller Dan Hynes and state treasurer Judy Baar Topinka to borrow hundreds of millions of dollars to help pay overdue bills to hospitals, pharmacies, nursing homes, and other Medicaid providers. But the three have yet to agree on the amount they want to borrow, with Gov. Blagojevich and Mr. Hynes, both Democrats, pushing for up to $1.5 billion to avert a slowdown in paying income tax refunds and sending state aid payments to schools. Ms. Topinka, a Republican, so far has agreed to borrow only $750 million to cover Medicaid reimbursements, an amount sufficient to capture an additional $740 million in federal Medicaid matching funds. Ms. Topinka agreed with the governor and comptroller to notify lawmakers of the plan to borrow $1.5 billion. The governor contends Ms. Topinka is "on board in concept," said Tom Schafer, a Blagojevich spokesman. Last year, refunds to many Illinois taxpayers were months late, going out only after the state borrowed money. That earlier loan still is being repaid.

Medical care providers greeted the short-term borrowing plan with cautious optimism. "I think it’s wonderful if we start to get paid," said Warren Winston, a pharmacist at Sherrick Drug & Medical in Carthage, IL. "This money could literally keep pharmacies afloat. I guess we will know more within the next 30 days when the next billing cycle begins." The state owes Sherrick Drug more than $130,000 in unpaid Medicaid bills dating to last fall. On average, the state has acknowledged falling behind 90 days in paying all kinds of providers. That has prompted hospitals, pharmacies, physicians and others to turn away Medicaid patients for drugs and outpatient services. Providers still are treating emergencies.

Chicago Tribune, April 18, 2003

Judge OKs Medicaid cutoff

DENVER—Colorado can legally shut out thousands of sick, poor, and elderly legal immigrants from the program that buys their medicine and pays for medical treatment and nursing home care, a judge ruled. U.S. District Judge Robert Blackburn denied a request, filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) on behalf of eight immigrants, to stop the state from implementing a new law ending Medicaid payments for legal immigrants. ACLU spokesman Mark Silverstein said the group would appeal. The legislature, seeking nearly $1 billion in spending cuts to balance the state’s budget, passed the measure — signed into law March 5 by Gov. Bill Owens. It was to have taken effect April 1, resulting in about $1.3 million in savings this year and nearly $6 million next year. In challenging the law, ACLU attorneys argued that Medicaid "may actually make the difference between life and death." In his decision, Judge Blackburn agreed that the state legislature’s move will harm the immigrants. "Even a temporary suspension of coverage would result in irreparable injury to many of the plaintiffs," he wrote. Nevertheless, he concluded that the public interest, including the constitutional requirement of a balanced state budget, outweighs that harm.

Denver Post, April 17, 2003