Illinois Governor Makes Cuts to Health Care for State's Poor

by | April 24, 2015

By Monique Garcia

A month ago, new Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner and state lawmakers agreed to $300 million in cuts as part of a plan to fix a budget passed last year that didn't have enough money to cover 12 months of spending.

On Thursday, a few details of what those cuts are started to emerge at the Capitol, though the Rauner administration declined to provide a full list of what's been chopped.

The administration will make roughly $106 million in cuts to the Medicaid health care program for the poor, much of which takes the form of a 16.75 percent reduction to reimbursement payments to doctors and pharmacies.

Another $1.1 million would be slashed from human service programs including domestic violence shelters, services for homeless youths and the sickle cell clinic at the University of Illinois.

College scholarship grants for low-income students also would be cut, as would funding for community colleges. Lawmakers briefed by Rauner budget director Tim Nuding said he indicated that scholarships would be trimmed by about $6 million and colleges would lose about $8 million.

Sen. Heather Steans, D-Chicago, said the cuts are "consistent" with agreements made during weeks of budget negotiations between lawmakers and Rauner's office to fix a budget that the new governor inherited from his Democratic predecessor Pat Quinn.

That's a far cry from accusations lawmakers lobbed earlier in the week that Rauner wasn't upfront about an additional $26 million in cuts he made on top of the reductions lawmakers already signed off on. Those cuts, made on the Easter holiday weekend, targeted services for those with autism and epilepsy, as well as funding for the state's tobacco quit line and burial services for the poor.

"It doesn't appear we were caught by surprise here, it was something we had agreed upon," said Sen. Dan Kotowski, D-Park Ridge.

Earlier this week the Senate passed legislation that would allow Rauner to sweep $26 million from special funds to offset those cuts, but the measure does not have support in the House. As part of the short-term budget deal approved last month, lawmakers already have given Rauner power to tap into $1.3 billion in special funds as he grapples with what his office says is a $1.6 billion budget hole.

Solving that shortfall has occupied much of the spring legislative session, and budget talks are only expected to grow more contentious as lawmakers begin to turn their attention to crafting a spending plan for the new budget year that starts July 1.

Rauner is pushing for billions in cuts, while Democrats say the problem will require both reductions and a tax increase -- an approach Rauner is open to, but only if they go along with his plans to curb union powers and cut workers' compensation costs for businesses.

(c)2015 the Chicago Tribune