Pritzker getting heat for scaling back health care program for undocumented immigrants

The sharpest criticism came from activists. “Governor Pritzker is not different from Ron DeSantis hurting the most vulnerable immigrants,” the Healthy Illinois Campaign said in a statement.

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Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker. Gov. J.B. Pritzker is hitting the road later this week to D.C., Maine and New Hampshire

Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker

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Back in May, Gov. J.B. Pritzker told reporters his administration had given lawmakers seven options to rein in costs of a health care program for undocumented immigrants, which was growing well beyond affordability.

Pritzker told reporters at a more recent event that he had originally budgeted the program for a $220 million increase, but since then the program was projected to actually grow by $1.1 billion in the coming fiscal year.

So, he said, the state needed to limit the growth to $550 million. Pritzker said his administration believed “we could manage the program with the number of people that are in it now” to keep those cost increases at $550 million, which was a clear sign that an enrollment cap was coming.

The administration has been meeting with the Legislative Latino Caucus about the unexpected growth in the program since March. And it’s been pretty clear from the beginning that enrollment would have to be capped and other cost-cutting measures put in place to prevent the program from eating up even more limited state resources.

Even so, some Latino legislators were enraged during the final briefing about the solutions the governor decided to put into place: “Pausing” new enrollment for those aged 42-64; establishing co-pays; implementing managed care; clawing back some over-payments to the Cook County Hospital System; and limiting or eliminating backdated medical coverage. The plan was called “racist” by at least one person on the Zoom call.

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Several hours later, the Latino Caucus issued a toned-down press release, calling the governor’s announcement “disappointing.” They did, after all, vote for the Medicaid omnibus bill that enabled the emergency rule-making authority.

Others weren’t so muted. U.S. Rep. Delia Ramirez, D-Ill., had sponsored the original bill to create the program for senior citizens when she was still a state legislator. Ramirez and others predicted at the time the program would only cost a few million dollars a year. After Pritzker acted, she called the governor’s decision to impose the limits “a false choice built on fear-mongering and anti-immigrant rhetoric,” which will put “thousands of hard-working, taxpaying immigrants’ lives in danger.”

But the sharpest criticism came from activists.

The Healthy Illinois Campaign, which lobbied hard to expand the program even further this year despite the exploding costs, issued a press release back in May supporting the new state budget and thanked the General Assembly for protecting existing coverage for undocumented immigrants who are 42 and older. But then the reality of what it really takes to save $550 million out of a projected cost increase of $1.1 billion within the span of one fiscal year fully set in when Pritzker issued his emergency rules.

The governor went to Florida last week to receive an award from two prominent immigration groups, but the Healthy Illinois Campaign called on the groups to rescind the honor.

“It is absolutely scandalous that Governor Pritzker will be receiving an immigrant leadership award while in the state of Illinois he has rejected and perverted the idea that immigrants have the right to health care,” the Healthy Illinois Campaign’s statement claimed. “Governor Pritzker is not different from Ron DeSantis hurting the most vulnerable immigrants,” they continued. “A billionaire governor so willfully causing pain to the hardest working people — is that any different from Ron DeSantis? Is this the standard now for opportunistic politicians running for president?”

Ouch.

The Healthy Illinois Campaign has never accepted the governor’s cost projections, but it has yet to fully explain why they believe the expected costs are not nearly as high as the administration’s estimates.

The governor, for his part, seemingly contradicted himself when he told reporters a few weeks ago that the state saves money when it invested in the health car program. “If they don’t get basic health care, they end up in an emergency room and we all end up paying for that at a much higher cost than if we have preventative care.”

This is obviously an unusual position for the governor to be in. He’s been a darling, even a hero, of the progressive wing of his party since Day One. But, at least for now, he’s taking some real heat.

“This is a welcoming state,” progressive Sen. Omar Aquino, D-Chicago, thundered during a die-in demonstration at Chicago’s Federal Plaza. “Always,” he said, “Not only when it’s convenient.”

And Democratic Socialist Chicago Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th) recently tweeted that, while he had previously called Pritzker “arguably the best Illinois governor since progressive John Peter Altgeld,” he now believes that the decision to impose the emergency rules is “criminal.”

Rich Miller also publishes Capitol Fax, a daily political newsletter, and CapitolFax.com.

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