Illinois dialysis patients threatened by proposed Medicaid cuts

WAUKEGAN, Ill. (WLS) -- Proposed budget cuts to Medicaid threaten to have a big impact effect on some kidney patients in Illinois who rely on dialysis to survive. It comes as state Democrats are expected to advance their own budget proposal, one that Republicans are calling "unbalanced."

The dialysis centers treat some of the most fragile patients in the state's health care system. Now, they are threatened by the Illinois budget crisis.

For patients at the DaVita Kidney Dialysis Center in Waukegan, four-hour treatments three times a week are the difference between life and death.

"I try to be positive. I understand what I'm battling but I don't let that affect my life," said Ken Mayo, a dialysis patient.

Ninety percent of dialysis patients receive some degree of support from either federal or state programs. Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner's proposal to cut Medicaid reimbursements could cause dozens of treatment centers to close.

"The problem with this is there are a number of dialysis centers across the state of Illinois that don't make a profit. They lose money," said Penny Davis, of DaVita Dialysis.

Facing a $6 billion deficit for next fiscal year, the governor has targeted the Medicaid program for $1.5 billion in cuts. In Springfield, dialysis providers said if their programs are not spared, patients will end up in more expensive hospital emergency rooms.

"Medicaid cuts to dialysis will only shift costs to commercial insurance programs where folks hope you won't notice them," said Jackson Williams, of Dialysis Patients Citizens.

Democratic lawmakers who hold the majority in both chambers of the general assembly say they'll send the governor a budget plan with a $3 billion shortfall. They want Rauner to recommend a tax increase to restore cuts to programs like Medicaid.

U.S. Congressman Bob Dold, who toured the center in Waukegan Tuesday afternoon, saw the life and death treatments up close and wants the politicians in Springfield to recognize the seriousness.

"Republicans, Democrats: put the partisanship aside and focus on the people," Rep. Dold said.

The deadline for the General Assembly to come up with a budget is May 31 at midnight. The governor sticks by his demand for reforms before any tax increases.
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