05/31/2013 05:19 pm ET Updated Jul 31, 2013

Illinois General Assembly Extends Medicaid Coverage to Low-Income Residents

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Time: 4:30 p.m Central, Tuesday, May 28, 2013. "Mr. Clerk, take the record." With those words the President of the Illinois Senate asked the clerk of the chamber torecord the votes on Senate Bill 26, as amended, the bill that would put Illinois in the column of states that will, come January 1, 2014, offer Medicaid coverage to all low-income state residents. The Senate passed the bill by a vote of 39 to 20, concurring with the House, which passed the same bill the previous day (63 to 55). Thus, pending Governor Quinn's signature, which he has promised, President Obama's home state will extend Medicaid to all previously ineligible low-income adults under the Affordable Care Act.

As Shriver Center President John Bouman stated:

Passage of this measure helps everyone in the state because it is a key part of the overall reform of the health care system and controlling its costs. But make no mistake: it is also the single most significant blow against poverty struck in Illinois in the last 50 years.

It was clear from the floor debates that these thoughts, as well as the moral conviction that health care should be for all, were prevalent among the supporters of the bill. Opponents of the bill largely cited unsubstantiated fears about future costs and the speculation that the federal government might someday renege on the funding promises in the Affordable Care Act. In fact, however, the opposition was partisan. The Republican caucuses took "caucus positions," meaning that individual members were not free to vote their consciences or their opinions about wise public policy.

Enacting this legislation means Medicaid coverage and increased access to quality and affordable health care to those who are uninsured with incomes under 138 percent of the federal poverty level (roughly $15,856 for an individual). This would make an exponential improvement in their quality of life and economic opportunity. This measure is a crucial part of the overall health reform taking effect since March of 2010. With passage of this law, Illinois joins 28 other states that have supported extending Medicaid to those newly eligible under the Affordable Care Act.

The Affordable Care Act provides that the Federal Medical Assistance Percentage (FMAP) rates for newly eligible individuals are 100 percent for calendar years 2014 through 2016. Federal financial support will then phase down slightlyover the following several years so that, by 2020 and for all subsequent years, the federal government will pay 90 percent of the costs of covering these individuals (meaning that Illinois will pay just 10 percent of the cost of care for this new population). Medicaid coverage for the newly eligible group will start statewide January 1, 2014, with enrollment starting in October 2013. (The new coverage took effect January 1, 2012, for Cook County, Illinois, residents.).

In addition to health improvements for the newly eligible, the law's implementation will also:

  • Ease the financial burden on health care providers. Through 2016, this legislation will bring an estimated$4.6 billion into Illinois in the form of Medicaid provider payments for newly eligible adults, with no net state costs for the care.
  • Help stabilize Illinois's state budget. The Illinois State Budget, Townships, and General Assistance providers will be relieved from paying for coverage of those who are uninsured and are currently ineligible for Medicaid.
  • Benefit family economic well-being. New Medicaid will help reduce the financial burden that those who have private insurance pay towards the cost of uncompensated care. According to a report from Families USA, the average family with private health insurance pays an annual "hidden tax" of over $1,000 annually to offset the cost of uncompensated care.
  • Create new jobs in Illinois. Adding the new eligibility category to Illinois's Medicaid program will bring in a large amount of federal funds, which will result in more economic growth and jobs. In Illinois, the total amount of federal Medicaid funding anticipated to accompany the expansion is over $21 billion dollars from 2013 to 2022, which could finance hundreds of thousands of new health care jobs.
  • Provide health insurance coverage to veterans. About 13,000 of the newly eligible for the Medicaid Expansion are returning veterans who will not be helped by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

This new adult coverage legislation, Senate Bill 26, sponsored by Senator Heather Steans and Representative Sara Feigenholtz, was supported by hundreds of business, health care, faith-based, community-based, and patient/consumer advocacy organizations. These supporters conducted public outreach, wrote articles and blogs, and attended the legislative sessions. Thank you to all of the legislators who voted yes on a bill that tackles one of the most fundamental justice issues of our time: access to health care.