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Health plan to face long odds

Health plan to face long odds

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SPRINGFIELD - Gov. Rod Blagojevich's latest effort to expand health care to poor Illinoisans may hit another roadblock Tuesday.

The Democratic governor's proposal, which would extend health coverage to 147,000 low-income adults, will be debated by a special committee of lawmakers who have the power to stop the move.

State Sen. Dan Rutherford, R-Chenoa, predicted that the bipartisan panel will reject the plan.

"My guess is that it will be prohibited," said Rutherford, who is a member of the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules, which meets Tuesday in Chicago.

A Democrat on the panel agreed.

"It's going to fail," said state Rep. David Miller, D-Dolton.

Blagojevich's proposal would more than double eligibility for the state-run health care program known as FamilyCare.

Under his proposal, a family of four with a combined income of $82,600 would qualify for the insurance. That's up from an income level of $38,203.

The governor had originally planned to implement the program with legislative support. But, the House last spring overwhelmingly rejected his plan to raise taxes on businesses in order to pay for the expansion.

Blagojevich now wants to put the plan in place using an emergency rule.

"Numerous studies show that lack of insurance negatively affects the health status of individuals posing a threat to their health and well being," the proposal notes.

State Sen. Brad Burzynski, R-Clare, who sits on the committee, questioned whether such quick action is needed.

"I don't know what has changed that would make this an emergency," said Burzynski, who intends to vote against the proposal.

Opponents say the budget for state health care programs would run out of money before the fiscal year ends in June.

Teresa Kurtenbach, spokeswoman for the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services, put the price tag at $43 million. Lawmakers say it could be nine times higher than that.

Big reimbursement delays

Blagojevich's proposal comes as the state continues to struggle to pay its existing bills.

On Friday, the average wait for Medicaid reimbursement payments for health care providers was about 50 days, according to the Illinois Comptroller's office.

But, that figure is an average and does not reflect that some providers aren't seeing their payments for much longer.

For pharmacists, payments are exceeding 60 days. There is a concern that it will only grow worse if the state's economy doesn't improve, said Mike Patton, executive director of the Illinois Pharmacists Association.

Nursing home owners are seeing payment cycles nearing 90 days.

And some hospitals have reported waiting over 100 days for payments.

"We've always said the payment cycle should come down," said Danny Chun, spokesman for the Illinois Hospital Association.

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