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updated: 2/2/2012 3:42 PM

GOP lawmakers: Drop Cook County Medicaid request

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Associated Press

SPRINGFIELD -- Two Republican state lawmakers on Thursday said it would be hypocritical for Gov. Pat Quinn to seek expansion of a health insurance program for low-income adults in Cook County at a time Illinois faces billions in unpaid bills and needs statewide Medicaid reforms.

Rep. Patti Bellock of Hinsdale and Sen. Dale Righter of Mattoon called on Quinn's administration to drop a request that would allow for an expansion of Medicaid coverage to low-income childless adults in the nation's second most-populous county.

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The lawmakers said there are hundreds of millions of dollars in cost-saving reforms that were approved by the legislature last year but not carried out. The reform package, which included requiring income and residency verification for Medicaid applicants, put a moratorium on expanding Medicaid eligibility.

"We want to reform the system when clearly that's not their aim," Righter said of the Quinn administration. "We're drowning in the hypocrisy."

The Associated Press reported earlier in the week that the Department of Healthcare and Family Services Director Julie Hamos asked the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services for an expansion which is supposed to bring millions in federal funding to Cook County's strained health care system.

But any expansion would require lawmakers to lift the moratorium, and Hamos said Cook County has to convince lawmakers.

Righter and Bellock's call to drop the proposal came a day after Quinn's State of the State address, where he said that Medicaid and pension reform must happen this year. The state's budget forecast is bleak with potentially painful cuts and Illinois's backlog of bills, including Medicaid payments, is more than $9 billion.

Righter said Thursday he fears an expansion would cost Illinois more, even though Cook County pays for Medicaid without state funds.

"We've heard that. It never turns out to be the case," he said.

Hamos' letter seeks a waiver under the Affordable Care Act to move up the date of expanded Medicaid coverage for Cook County. In 2014, under President Barack Obama's health care overhaul, Americans who earn less than 133 percent of the poverty level will be eligible to enroll in Medicaid. States will receive 100 percent federal funding to cover the expansion for the first three years.

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