Illinois must ensure foster kids get timely health care

The top Medicaid contractor in Illinois isn’t getting it done.

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The state of Illinois might be correct when it says not all foster parents are particularly cooperative in getting medical care for the children in their care, but that doesn’t let the state off the hook. It’s up to the state to make sure foster children, who are its responsibility, are getting the attention they need.

In a story published recently in the Sun-Times, David Jackson and Rachel Hinton of the Better Government Association’s Illinois Answers Project reported that Centene Corp., the top Medicaid contractor in Illinois, isn’t getting it done when it comes to making sure thousands of children are getting basic medical care, from dental visits to immunizations to well-being checks.

As a result, some foster parents of abused and neglected children in the YouthCare program have to wait months for appointments. Some even pay medical bills out of their own pockets and hope for reimbursement.

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That’s not what a smoothly working health care system looks like.

The onus should not fall on the shoulders of foster parents. Centene is responsible for ensuring it meets the goals spelled out in its contract. The claim by state officials that things are getting better and that it’s hard to get in touch with some families is not reassuring. Overcoming those kinds of challenges is part of the responsibility Centene took on when it signed up to do the job.

Centene is no stranger to controversy. In October, the Illinois Department of Insurance announced a $1.25 million fine for a subsidiary of Centene for violating the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act and the Network Adequacy and Transparency Act. In August, consumers in states including Illinois sued Centene and the subsidiary, saying they were overcharged for plans that didn’t deliver promised benefits.

A Centene spokesman told the Illinois Answers Project the company is improving its metrics.

Centene and the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services haven’t established benchmarks — after two years — on the level of care for such things as frequency of doctor visits and psychological assessments. DHFS said it expects those benchmarks to be in place by the end of this year.

That’s overdue. Families need the care now. The state should make sure they get it.

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