Illinois House Democrats approved legislation that could block Gov. Bruce Rauner from expanding the managed care program for Medicaid recipients.
The direct effect of Senate Bill 1446 is to require the state to use the regular procurement process when seeking new contracts to administer the managed care program. The Department of Healthcare and Family Services is using a process to select vendors for the potential $9 billion program that’s been used before, but that Democrats now say is not transparent enough.
“It is not being done with adequate scrutiny,” said Rep. Greg Harris, D-Chicago. “When $9 billion of tax money is going to be given out to private corporations, we need to be absolutely sure that every member of the public has assurance there is transparency.’
Harris agreed that the selection process being used by DHFS has been used by the state in the past, but he said that was when the Medicaid managed care program was much smaller. Rauner wants to have at least 80 percent of recipients in the program. At the same time, the administration wants to reduce the number of companies who provide coverage under the program.
Republicans said the issue wasn’t transparency, but who is in the governor’s office.
“All of a sudden it becomes something that needs to be stopped because of Gov. Rauner,” said Rep. Peter Breen, R-Lombard. “This is petty politics.”
Rep. Patricia Bellock, R-Hinsdale, said DHFS has been working on the selection process since February and the bill could derail the work that’s already been done. Contract winners are supposed to be announced at the end of June.
“We’re changing the rules in midstream,” added Rep. Tom Demmer, R-Dixon, who said the bill could leave the state open to legal challenges.
Democratic Comptroller Susana Mendoza also got into the debate earlier this month, sending a letter to Rauner urging him to hold off on revamping the managed care program until the state gets its financial problems under control.
The bill further underscored the political divisions that permeate state government, as lawmakers continue to struggle to reach agreement on a state budget. They even extended to a bill unanimously approved by the House.
Earlier Monday, the House voted 114-0 to make changes to state purchasing laws. Lawmakers put a number of restrictions into those laws in the wake of ex-Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s tenure. However, many vendors, universities and state agencies complained the restrictions went too far and resulted in wasted time and expenses. Rauner called for changes that he said could save the state $500 million a year.
The Senate approved a bill making changes and the House made some additional changes before sending it back to the Senate. House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, issued a statement saying it was an example of the House Democrats “to work cooperatively with the governor…” He then called on Rauner to “immediately focus on working with House Democrats to find common ground and pass a budget for our state.”
In response, Rauner spokeswoman Eleni Demertzis said, “Tiny, incremental steps to change our broken system are better than nothing, but what the House passed today is far from what is needed. While Speaker Madigan’s Democrats continue to argue over how big of a tax hike to impose on the people of Illinois, the governor remains focused on enacting real and lasting property tax relief.”
— Contact Doug Finke: email@example.com, 788-1527, twitter.com/dougfinkesjr.