Lawyers: Talks on unpaid Illinois Medicaid bills at impasse

By Michael Tarm 
AP Legal Affairs Writer

CHICAGO — Court-ordered talks have stalled over unpaid Illinois Medicaid bills meant to ensure care for the poor and other vulnerable groups is not jeopardized, lawyers in a lawsuit on such payments said in a Tuesday filing in which they also asked the presiding judge to make the state pay $1 billion a month for four months even as it enters a third year without a budget.

The filing in Chicago federal court comes three weeks after Judge Joan Lefkow ruled Illinois — which has accumulated a more than $2 billion backlog in unpaid Medicaid bills — wasn’t in compliance with previous orders.

Despite some optimism about reaching a deal earlier this month, the filing says “negotiations have not resulted in meaningful progress” and “the parties are at an impasse.”

Half of the $1 billion a month being requested would be compensated by federal reimbursements, so Illinois would be responsible for about $500 million a month, plaintiff attorney John Mark Bouman said. The state comptroller’s office previously had indicated it couldn’t increase payments by more than around $300 million, he said.

“We just don’t think that’s enough to secure continued access to health care for those covered by Medicaid,” Bouman said. He argued any failure to increase the payments will pose “a dramatic threat to the system” as unpaid health care providers pull out.

The comptroller’s office didn’t have an immediate comment on the filing.

Judge Lefkow could rule on the request at a hearing scheduled for Wednesday.

Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner and the Democrat-controlled Legislature have remained deadlocked over a budget since Rauner took office in 2015. Prioritizing payments month to month falls to Illinois State Comptroller Susana Mendoza, a Democrat.

Bouman said he is sympathetic to challenges the comptroller’s office faces and agrees that allotting more money to Medicaid bills means making unavoidable cuts to other state programs.

“The real answer,” he said, “is for the state to pass a budget.”

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