Illinois voters see health care as top priority

Illinois voters see health care as top priority


CHICAGO—According to a recent poll, education and health care are the two top priorities for Illinois voters. The April 28 Zogby poll, conducted by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and KMOV-TV, asked 806 registered voters across the state to name their two top priorities for budgetary funding in the fiscal crunch. Eighty-five percent of those polled listed education as a top concern, and 63.3 percent listed health care.

Despite Illinois voters’ overwhelming support for health care, Governor Ryan’s proposed budget threatens drastic cuts to social service programs and health care providers. Nursing homes in particular stand to bear a heavy blow. The budget calls for an 8.8 percent cut to Medicaid funding for nursing homes, totaling $171 million. Additionally, since the federal government matches 50 cents for each dollar of Medicaid funding, the state also risks losing an additional $85.5.

With Medicaid funds financing two-thirds of the state’s total nursing home expenses, such an extreme cut could force facilities to cut staff, decrease services or go bankrupt. “This shows that as a state, we’re not meeting our responsibilities to our mothers and fathers, and grandmothers and grandfathers,” says Terrence Sullivan, executive director of the Illinois Council on Long Term Care. “Illinois already ranks 44th in the nation in average Medicaid rate paid to nursing homes. Plus, average costs at nursing homes have risen 61 percent over the past eight years, while Medicaid rates have increased by only 37 percent. This cut will only make things worse.”

Providing proper health care to the elderly is becoming an increasingly prominent issue for the state of Illinois, particularly with the graying of the baby boomer population. Persons aged 85 years and above are now the fastest-growing age group in the country. Between 1994 and 2020, America’s 85-and-older population is projected to double to 7 million and swell to between 19 and 27 million by 2050. Additionally, people 85 years and older are the heaviest users of long-term care—nearly one in four lived in a nursing home in 1990. The decisions that are made now regarding funding for long-term care will lay the groundwork for how millions of people will be cared for in the future.

According to a report prepared by Voices for Illinois Children, Illinois ranks 46th in generating the general revenues that pay for education, public safety, human services and health care when measured against the personal income of the state’s taxpayers. That means that the general fund that pays for the primary services and programs of this state, but not its roads and other bricks and mortar projects, is poorer than all but four states. And although Illinois does have relatively high property taxes, our state still manages to rank 49th in the total state and local revenue that it generates, which includes property taxes and everything else, as a percent of the income of the state’s taxpayers.

State government has a social responsibility to protect its most frail, particularly during difficult times. Other states have shown Illinois that with recession budgets, necessary revenue to support the elderly can be generated through cigarette taxes, casino taxes, income taxes, and even borrowing the money against cigarette settlement money. One other solution to avoid devastating cuts to Medicaid is to temporarily increase the provider license assessment. The federal government matches all monies paid out to Medicaid. Increasing the provider license assessment costs the state nothing and will also prevent the loss of needed Medicaid matching funds. Whatever the solution, every effort must be responsibly taken to protect our state’s 50,000 nursing home residents on Medicaid—the proposed $171 million cut will put these Illinois citizens in peril.

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