A federal judge heard arguments Tuesday over whether Comptroller Susana Mendoza should be required to prioritize payments to some Medicaid providers among Illinois’ billions of dollars in unpaid bills that keep piling up during the state budget stalemate.

The court dispute reflects the mounting difficulty of balancing Illinois’ competing financial obligations in the midst of an ongoing political fight between Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner and Democrats who control the General Assembly.

Judge Joan Lefkow indicated in court on Tuesday that she was sympathetic to the complaints of the Medicaid patients, but that she was unlikely to go as far as telling the comptroller which bills should be set aside in order to make the payments.

And attorneys representing the patients said they weren’t expecting the state to be required to immediately come up with the $2 billion owed to health care providers. They asked the judge to issue an order declaring those bills a priority in order to compel the two sides to negotiate a plan to funnel more money to doctors and hospitals.

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Federal judge weighing whether Illinois must prioritize paying Medicaid bills – Chicago Tribune