Worries over Illinois’ skyrocketing Medicaid costs were again in the news as the General Assembly’s top legislative advocates for reform criticized what they fear is a backroom deal that could undo the state’s efforts to rein in costs and fight fraud.
State Sen. Dale Righter (R-Mattoon) and State Rep. Patti Bellock (R-Hinsdale) criticized the Quinn Administration Dec. 17 for dismantling a key element of the bipartisan 2012 SMART (Saving Medicaid And Resources Together) Act reforms. The linchpin of the reforms has been an independent effort to verify that all persons receiving Medicaid in the state are eligible for the program.
The two were reacting to news that Gov. Pat Quinn had decided to settle a dispute with union leaders, which would require dropping the independent contractor – Maximus Health Services – hired to review Medicaid eligibility.
Maximus was hired last year to help scrub the state’s Medicaid rolls as part as a larger effort to cut healthcare costs. But, a state union challenged the plan, claiming that it violated union contracts and argued the work should be performed by government workers. An arbitrator sided with the union and on Dec. 16 the Quinn Administration said they were dropping an appeal and would instead hire new government workers to do the job.
“Instead of vigorously appealing the initial ruling and defending state law, the Administration struck a secret deal that not only undermines, but threatens to destroy Medicaid reform and blow a huge hole in the state budget heading into a year when the so-called temporary tax increase is set to expire,” said Righter. “This is politics at its worst.” http://www.senategop.state.il.us/News/NewsDetails/tabid/120/nid/723/r/1/Default.aspx.
Countdown to New Laws
More than 200 new laws go into effect Jan. 1, including increasing the state’s speed limits, legalizing medical marijuana, opening up government grants to greater scrutiny and banning cell phone use while driving.
Jan. 1 is the default date for a new law to become effective if there is no language specifying when it will become effective. Listed below are a few highlights. More details are available at the Senate Republican Web site (http://www.senategop.state.il.us/News/NewsDetails/tabid/120/nid/722/r/1/Default.aspx) where you can also find a downloadable summary of every new law (http://www.senategop.state.il.us/Portals/0/Senate-Action/January%201%202014%20New%20Laws.pdf) going into effect Jan. 1.
Ban Political Use of State Grants
Though state grants account for hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars each year, it is extremely difficult to track these funds and their use. Two new laws (Senate Bill 2380 and Senate Bill 2381) sponsored by Senate Republican Leader Christine Radogno (R-Lemont) will make it easier to review how grant monies are being used, and ensure the dollars aren’t being used in an inappropriate manner—such as furthering someone’s political ambitions.
The new laws were introduced in response to a four-month 2012 CNN investigation (http://ac360.blogs.cnn.com/2012/11/30/murder-money-and-politics-in-chicago/?hpt=ac_mid )that revealed millions of taxpayer-financed grant dollars had been used by Gov. Quinn’s Neighborhood Recovery Initiative grant program to finance a variety of questionable activities. The money was used to pay teen-agers to march in a parade with the Governor, hand out flyers promoting inner peace, take field trips to museums, and attend yoga classes.
Distracted Driving: Cell Phone Ban
Illinois joins roughly a dozen other states with laws banning the use of cell phones while driving. Though the state already has a prohibition in place for texting and driving, Illinois residents will no longer be allowed to talk on cell phones when driving, unless using hands-free technology, once House Bill 1247 takes effect.
70 mph Speed Limit Takes Effect
Illinois’ speed limit will soon be in line with most of the country. Senate Bill 2356 increases the maximum speed limit to 70 miles per hour (mph) on most interstates and toll highways. Sponsored by State Sen. Jim Oberweis (R-Sugar Grove), the new law updates speed limits to reflect the reality of current driving speeds in Illinois and other states.
Although the law goes into effect Jan. 1, the Illinois Department of Transportation has said it may take until mid-January before Interstate speed limit signs are updated across the state.
Medical Marijuana in Illinois
Illinois’ new medical marijuana law (House Bill 1) legally allows authorized patients to use medical marijuana grown by an approved cultivation center and purchased from a registered dispensary.
Once the new law takes place Jan. 1, the Illinois Department of Public Health, the Illinois of Department of Financial and Professional Regulation, and the Illinois Department of Agriculture will have 120 days to develop the rules that will allow them to carry out their responsibilities dictated by House Bill 1. This will include developing a registry of patients who are allowed to use marijuana, and establishing the rules and regulations governing medical marijuana cultivation centers and dispensaries.
ADM Case Raises Concerns
Many welcomed the news that Decatur’s Archer Daniels Midland (ADM), a multinational agricultural product processor, will keep its global headquarters in Illinois – moving it from downstate Decatur to Chicago.
However, the announcement also raised concerns that Decatur and downstate Illinois may fail to see benefits they could have realized had Gov. Quinn and the House of Representatives supported a package that linked new jobs and investment to the move.
State Sen. Bill Brady (R-Bloomington) had earlier called on the Governor and the House to pass a bipartisan economic incentive package in which ADM agreed to create hundreds of new jobs in Decatur.
After the announcement, Brady noted, “Unfortunately, foot-dragging by the Governor and the House means there is no guarantee we will see job growth in Decatur.”
The incentive package required ADM to maintain 200 full-time employees at its office in Decatur and relocate 100 employees to Decatur from outside of Illinois within five years. It further stipulated that ADM must hire at least 100 new employees every year for five years at the Decatur location.
Comptroller: How Many Lottery Winnings Would it Take…
In a light note on a serious topic, Illinois Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka (https://twitter.com/CompTopinka/status/413058288708632576) tweeted to her followers: “To pay off the state’s unpaid bills, I’d have to win the $636 MegaMillion jackpot 14x. On the bright side, I’d have $104 million to spare.”
It was an effective way for the Comptroller to remind taxpayers just how seriously in debt the state is three years after majority Democrats approved a 67% tax hike that was passed with the promise it would be used to pay the state’s unpaid bills.