Every once in a while, politicians will engage in lawsuit that has all the attributes of a professional wrestling match.
It looks like a vigorous fight. Plenty of noise is made during the bout.
But to a close observer, it doesn’t feel like a fight at all. The punches don’t always connect. And the participants could be best described as actors rather than contestants.
Those are the kind of thoughts I’m getting from some Republicans in the latest the legal dispute between Gov. Pat Quinn and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.
It may be a real fight – but questions are being raised.
The Quinn administration said this week it will appeal a labor arbitrator’s decision invalidating a contract with a private vendor who is scouring the state’s Medicaid rolls for people who are gaming the system and getting coverage they really aren’t eligible for.
AFSCME thinks that instead of hiring a private firm to scrub the Medicaid rolls, the state should have expanded its workforce and had union workers do it. AFSCME filed a grievance and the matter went before an arbitrator.
“The administration seems unenthusiastic about this contract,” said state Sen. Dale Righter, R-Matoon. “I’ve read the arbitrators decision. … The deputy director of the program said basically this wasn’t our idea and we would have preferred to keep it in house.”
So far the private contractor, Maximus Health Services, has reviewed nearly 288,000 of the 2.7 million individuals currently enrolled in Illinois’ Medicaid program.
Of the individual cases reviewed so far, Maximus identified more than 141,000 who were ineligible for benefits, as well as 32,000 more cases where an enrollee was eligible for some benefits but enrolled in the wrong program.
But AFSCME contended before the arbitrator that the private contractor had not saved the state any money, Righter said.
“The state didn’t even challenge that,” he said. “It’s like they were stipulating from the get-go that AFSCME was right.
The arbitrator ruled in favor of AFSCME. The state appealed the decision into court this week. But Righter is skeptical whether this is a real fight.
In response, Quinn spokesman Dave Blanchette said “that’s ludicrous and completely false.”
During the last gubernatorial race, AFSCME was a key ally of Quinn’s, making significant donations and lending critical last-minute support, which many political observers believe enabled the governor to edge out Republican Bill Brady. Since then, Quinn and AFSCME have had a rocky relationship.
Now seeking re-election, the governor may seek reconciliation with the union.
“Politically, I can’t think of any reason why Quinn would want to take on the union over this contract – that’s troubling,” Righter said.
A Mile In Someone Else’s Shoes
I have to admire state Sen. Jacqueline Y. Collins, D-Chicago, for taking the SNAP Challenge this week to better understand the hardships faced by food stamp recipients.
As per the challenge’s parameters, Collins plans to spend only $35 on food for a week – the average weekly SNAP benefit for a single adult.
In light of the SNAP Challenge, I can’t help but wonder if any lawmakers would be willing to take the “Medicaid Challenge” by giving up their private insurance and living on an insurance plan where many of the state’s doctors won’t see you because the state pays its bills late and covers only a fraction of the actual cost of treating a patient.
In fact, 35 percent of all Illinois physicians don’t take new Medicaid patients, according to the National Center for Health Statistics. Illinois is the eighth-worst in the nation in that regard.
And still lawmakers vote to continue to expand the current Medicaid system, rather than investigate alternatives for low-income people to receive higher-quality care – and save taxpayers money.
For example, Florida and Kansas have empowered Medicaid recipients by giving them choices of various Health Medical Organizations to choose from. Taxpayers benefit because the HMOs have to bid for the privilege of being among the Medicaid contracts.
Folks on both the left and the right want low-income people to have health coverage.
The question is whether doing the same thing the same way will create a different result.
In the case of Medicaid, the answer is: probably not.