SPRINGFIELD, ILL (IRN) – Trying to make up $2.7 billion, Gov. Pat Quinn says his job is to tell lawmakers not what they want to hear, but what they need to hear and a $1-a-pack increase in the cigarette tax may have the lawmakers telling Quinn what he doesn’t want to hear: “No.”

But that proposal, meant to garner federal matching money, is part of Quinn’s Medicaid “stabilization” plan, which he rolled out Thursday afternoon. Half of the money would come from cuts and efficiencies across 58 areas, including trying to curb waste, fraud, and abuse. The cigarette plan would account for a quarter of it, as would reductions to health care providers.

Quinn, who reminded reporters during a Capitol news conference that the tobacco tax has gone up more than once under Republican governors, says research indicates the tax has another effect: encouraging people to quit smoking, thus incurring less medical expense.

The plan to add more taxes to reduce the deficit is not sitting well with some lawmakers.  State Sen. Dale Righter (R-Mattoon) says the governor had it right until he said “tax increase”.

“The governor’s raising the white flag and saying ‘You know what? We’re really not going to change the system that much and we’re going to go ahead and raise taxes,” Righter said.

Righter contends eliminating more waste, fraud and abuse is a better way of fixing Medicaid. Illinois currently charges 98 cents in taxes on cigarettes, and the revenue from that tax has been declining since 2005.

However, State Rep. Patti Bellock (R-Hinsdale) said despite Republicans’ differences with the governor, they understand the severity of the situation.

“We are dealing with a serious population. This is not an easy job.  You’re talking about children on ventilators. You’re talking about seniors in wheelchairs. You’re talking about the most fragile population in Illinois.”

Mark Newton, chief executive of Swedish Covenant Hospital in Chicago, said the governor is putting thousands of jobs and vulnerable people in serious risk to correct years of the state’s neglect.

“We did not get here overnight,” Newton says. “Taking $2.7 billion out of a system that admittedly needs reform and trying to do that in one fell swoop is way too much and way too fast.”

The Illinois Hospital Association maintains the proposal calls for 8 percent cuts to Medicaid for hospitals. Illinois already owes $1.9 billion in late bills to the Medicaid system.

Governor Quinn has said he will keep lawmakers in Springfield this summer if they cannot pass a Medicaid plan by the scheduled May 31 adjournment date.

Copyright IRN


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