A group of Illinois lawmakers and health care advocates want the state to more equitably provide money for low income hospital patients.
State Rep. Chris Welch (D-Hillside) and state Sen. Omar Aquino (D-Chicago) have proposed legislation to change what’s known as the Medicaid hospital assessment program. That program sets aside an estimated $3.6 billion to help reimburse hospitals that care for patients who cannot afford expensive hospital stays and those without medical insurance.
The money is supposed to be spread evenly among providers throughout Illinois each year based on a number of criteria. But supporters of the change argue that has not happened in the past.
In certain areas where low income populations are higher than average, like Chicago and East St. Louis, hospitals have been forced to either limit services, or shut down entirely. One of the changes Welch and Aquino are proposing would ensure hospitals like these get at least $1 billion in direct payments from the state’s funding pool.
Anne Igoe of healthcare worker union SEIU says that could prevent service gaps and closures in the future.
“Our goal is for the provider assessment to serve Illinois’ most vulnerable communities,” she said. “We have to make sure these hospitals get their fair share of that.”
Danny Chun of the Illinois Health and Hospital Association says hospitals in low income communities are not the only ones in dire straits. He says over 40 percent of the state’s hospitals — including private ones — have lost funding or are barely making ends meet.
“Hospitals all over Illinois and all over the country are facing difficult financial challenges,” Chun said. “Medicaid and Medicare reimbursements are getting tighter. Reimbursements from private insurance companies are getting tighter.”
The current assessment program expires June 30th, and lawmakers will have to either renew it or make changes. Aquino and Welch’s proposal lays out a funding plan through fiscal year 2024.