Mark Brown: Safety-net hospitals endangered by Rauner budget knife
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In a letter to a Springfield newspaper this past week, Gov. Bruce Rauner said he “might be new around here, but I understand what I was sent to do.”
“It was not to accept the dismal failure that our state government has become. It was to make Illinois the proudest state, the most compassionate state and the most competitive state in the greatest nation on earth.”
Sounds great. I’m just trying to figure out how that squares with what Rauner is trying to do to the state’s safety-net hospitals.
Rauner wants to cut $735 million in Medicaid spending to Illinois hospitals, reductions that naturally will fall most heavily on hospitals that serve the poor in Chicago.
The hospitals say Rauner’s cuts would force them to eliminate important services and, in some instances, even force hospitals to close.
I realize there are some of you who would have gladly sent Rauner to Springfield to close hospitals that serve poor people, but I’m thinking you don’t constitute a majority.
If you did, Rauner wouldn’t be trying to peddle this baloney about making Illinois the “most compassionate state” at the same time he’s putting the sick and needy at greater risk.
It’s not as if Rauner has some great money-saving ideas he’s bringing to bear on the admittedly expensive Medicaid program. There are no brilliant efficiencies he learned from his days as a businessman milking government health care programs for profit.
No, he’s just saving money the old-fashioned way: with arbitrary cutting.
The hospitals say the best way to truly save money in the Medicaid program is to move to a managed-care model that more carefully coordinates patient services. They say Rauner’s cuts will immediately jeopardize the progress they’ve made in that direction.
The governor has proposed $1.5 billion in cuts to Medicaid, of which the hospitals account for nearly half.
I told you recently about the cuts he wants to make to home-care services for disabled people, which is likely to force many of them to move back to nursing homes. Rauner also has targeted mental health services, all the better to tee up more mentally ill people for a trip to Cook County Jail.
These apparently are among the “powerful special interests” that Rauner says are fighting him to maintain the status quo.
Before anyone feels the need to remind me the state is broke right now and can’t afford to do everything, let me point out again that it could afford to do a lot more before the Legislature decided last year to allow the temporary income-tax increase to expire under then-candidate Rauner’s pressure.
Rauner now says he won’t support raising taxes to pay for any of these programs until Democrats give him his way on his pet issues, most of which have precious little to do with improving the state’s economy.
I paid a visit Friday to Loretto Hospital, located along the Eisenhower Expressway in Austin on the city’s West Side.
Some 85 percent of its patients rely on either Medicaid or Medicare to pay their hospital bill.
Unlike more prosperous hospitals whose clients have private insurance, Loretto has no way to shift costs to private payers to make up for the lower reimbursement rates for government-subsidized patients.
Despite those challenges, Loretto is operating in the black, said Dr. Sonia Mehta, its CEO. But not enough to cover the $9 million it is projected to lose under Rauner’s Medicaid cuts. That’s nearly 15 percent of the hospital’s annual operating budget.
Mehta wouldn’t say where she would cut if the governor’s proposed budget is accepted, but one logical place to look would be the hospital’s residential rehabilitation program for individuals with mental illness and drug addictions.
The hospital currently receives very little funding for the program, Mehta said, but continues it out of conviction that patients need the services.
That’s how you make Illinois a more compassionate state.
As we enter into this final scheduled week of the legislative session, I would hope there are enough legislators who also have a clear understanding of what they were sent to Springfield to do.
And it’s not to make Bruce Rauner look good at the expense of poor people.