Dr. Ronald Lynch runs a family dentistry in Jacksonville. He says approximately 20 percent of his patients are state workers. Because Illinois is still running with no budget, the state has not been paying its employees’ health bills on time — and the delays are growing.
Lynch says he’s currently waiting on about $170,000 in bills from the state of Illinois. That’s all from care he’s already given to patients who work for the state. The last payment he received from Illinois was for work he did in November of 2015.
That means a state employee went to see Lynch just after the Kansas City Royals won the World Series, and Lynch has only recently gotten paid for it.
Some dentists around the state have already resorted to asking state workers to cover the cost of care up front. That way, they argue, at least the burden is spread over many patients, not funneling into their dental practices.
That reasoning is behind new legislation forwarded by an Illinois dental industry group. The proposal would make it easier for dentists who work in the same insurance network as state workers to stop taking on the liability of all these unpaid bills.
Illinois currently offers its employees insurance from Delta Dental, which happens to be the largest dental insurer in the country. If Lynch cancels his contract with Delta Dental, he loses more patients than the 20 percent who work for the state. Other people that come to see him in Jacksonville have Delta Dental from their private employer. If he drops Delta he loses everyone with that insurance — not just state workers.
The legislation would allow Lynch and other dentists to void just the part of the contract with Delta that covers state employees.
Of course, dentists are part of the long list of businesses, health care providers, and nonprofits that are waiting to be paid for work done over a year ago. Programs have shuttered, social service jobs have been cut, but State Senator Scott M. Bennett (D-Champaign), who is the proposal’s sponsor, argued at a legislative hearing that this idea offers a safety valve for dentists that doesn’t favor them over other organizations waiting for compensation.
It may help practices like Lynch’s, but not all. Dr. Elizabeth Knoedler is a dentist in Springfield with Prairie Dental Group. She says 50 to 60 percent of Prairie’s patients are state workers, and most of them would not be able to afford to pay out of pocket, and then wait the many months to be reimbursed by Illinois.
“I know that if I take away my acceptance of their insurance, they’re going to put [care] off. And that doesn’t sit well with us,” she said.
State budget forecasters expect the backlog of unpaid bills to reach $14 billion by summer. That is, if no budget plan is signed into law before then.
“We just want this problem to be solved. Come on, this [legislation] is not the answer. They just need to pass a budget,” Knoedler said.