Quinn proposes Medicaid cuts, cigarette tax

April 19, 2012 8:21:00 PM PDT
Gov. Pat Quinn unveiled his plan to close a $2.7 billion hole in the state's Medicaid system Thursday, calling for deep service cuts and a tax increase on cigarettes.

"If we don't rescue the system today, it will get worse day after day," Quinn said.

To resolve the projected deficit, the governor proposed cutting $1.35 billion in healthcare programs for the state's poorest residents. They include discount prescriptions, physical and speech therapy, psychiatric and chiropractic services and more.

The state also would reduce the rates it pays hospitals and other healthcare providers by $675 million. Most of the remaining $700 million would be generated with a $1-per-pack increase in the state's cigarette tax and matching federal grants.

"If we don't deal with the $2.7 billion gap this coming fiscal year, then all that money will have to be taken out of other priorities of state government," Quinn said.

"The Senate has passed the cigarette tax, a $1 increase, in the past with no support from Republicans," said Sen. John Cullerton, (D) Senate president.

Two Republicans announced their continued opposition to an increased tax on cigarettes, demanding the governor use cuts to make up the entire shortfall.

"Just raising taxes time and time again isn't working because these folks won't spend the money appropriately," said Sen. Dale Righter, (R) Matoon.

Henry Williams, a diabetic amputee, took a train to Springfield trying to convince the politicians that millions of seriously ill people depend solely on Medicaid.

"If the cuts go through, there will be travesty," he said. "And if it was not for the Medicaid helping them, they could not exist they would be dead. It's just that life-threatening."

But Republicans say more could be done to stop fraud in the Medicaid program.

"And you don't have other people in the system that drive away in a Cadillac and a Lexus and have people in the program that shouldn't be in the program," said Rep Patti Bellock, (R) Westmont.

The governor questioned Republican opposition to his cigarette tax proposal.

"There are 31 states that have a higher cigarette tax than we do," Quinn said. "So I think those folks who are saying no to that should rethink their position."

Healthcare providers reacted around the state began to react to the governor's plan Thursday evening. West Suburban Medical Center in Oak Park announced it would lay off workers because of continued problems in the state's Medicaid program.