New Illinois Law Treats Medicaid Headache | WBEZ
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New Illinois Law Treats Medicaid Headache

A new Illinois law aims to eliminate the giant headache of applying for and keeping Medicaid health insurance.

More than 3 million people who are low-income or disabled in Illinois have medical coverage through Medicaid — about one in four people statewide.

But Illinois has struggled with a backlog of applications that reached more than 120,000 under former Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner. That caused people who were enrolled to get dropped from Medicaid, and made it harder for new people to get on the rolls.

The backlog is down to about 95,000 applications, Democratic Gov. JB Pritzker said during a news conference on Monday to discuss the new law. He defeated Rauner last fall.

Dan Rabbitt with the nonprofit Heartland Alliance, who was among leaders who flanked Pritzker, said the backlog swelled not because Medicaid enrollees became ineligible.

“But because they missed a mailing,” he said. “Because the documentation they sent back wasn’t sufficient. Because they didn’t understand the mail that got sent to them.”

Losing Medicaid harmed people’s health, said Rabbit, who is Heartland’s project manager for health policy.

The backlog had other ripple effects. In June, when debuting her proposed 2020 budget, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle blamed the backlog for a drop in enrollment in the county health system’s Medicaid business called CountyCare. She alleged the Rauner administration deliberately processed Medicaid applications slowly.

“They designed a system that made it easy to kick people out and harder to enroll people or re-enroll people,” Preckwinkle said at the time. And, “they sat on a bunch of Medicaid applications.”

She was rattled not only because CountyCare insures more than 300,000 people who were at risk of losing their insurance and new applicants were at risk of not getting coverage, but also because Cook County government has become financially dependent on CountyCare. The Medicaid plan has brought in billions of dollars of revenue, making it critical to the county’s budget and making the government less reliant on extra money from taxpayers to operate the county health system. The health system is the medical safety net for uninsured and low-income people in the county.

CountyCare, which has a state contract, is paid based on enrollment. Having fewer members means bringing in less money.

The new Illinois law aims to make it easier for people to get and keep their Medicaid insurance by renewing more applications automatically, instead of having people apply every year. And Medicaid enrollees will have to submit just one pay stub to prove they qualify.

The law became effective immediately.

Kristen Schorsch covers Cook County politics for WBEZ. Follow her @kschorsch.

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