Gov. Pat Quinn signed a law Monday that would restore some Medicaid services the state cut in 2012 and could give Illinois access to about $2.4 billion in federal money over the next few years.
The new law seeks about $400 million in federal matching funds for the approximately 349,000 new Medicaid sign-ups in Illinois under the Affordable Care Act expansion. The other money would come from extending the state's hospital assessment programs over four years. Illinois hospitals pay a tax to the state for federal Medicaid matching funds and that money gets redistributed to health care providers.
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Proponents hailed the new law as a way capitalize on federal money and improve the state's safety net for the most vulnerable residents.
About 3 million Illinois residents receive Medicaid, the state and federal program that pays medical expenses for the poor and disabled. Illinois reformed its program in 2012, with major cuts. The new law restores adult dental and podiatry services.
State Rep. Greg Harris, a Chicago Democrat who sponsored the legislation, said cutting those services led to more emergency room visits, which cost the state more in the end.
"This will not rely on any Illinois taxpayer money," Harris said.
The new law also allows Medicaid coverage for eligible children who've been without private insurance for three months, down from 12 months previously. It also lifts the four-prescription drug limit for Medicaid patients needing anti-psychotic drugs.
Opponents have questioned an expansion to Medicaid as cash-strapped Illinois grapples with other financial problems and recent questions about overpayments. As the measure was debated in Springfield last month, some Republicans worried if restoring services was sustainable. Medicaid has been a target of Republicans -- particularly in the 2014 election year -- who say it should be scrutinized for further cost-cutting. Earlier this year, a state auditor detailed the Illinois Medicaid program's overpayment of $12.3 million for medical care for thousands of people who were dead.
But Quinn dismissed the cost concerns of expanding the program, saying it would help those who are vulnerable.
"This law ... has very strong safeguards for the public, for the taxpayers. At the same time, it also makes sure we expand health care coverage to include lots of good people who work hard and don't have any health care coverage at all," he told The Associated Press. "Why should we deny folks a fundamental part of living? I think health care is a fundamental right."