Illinois experts say Republican health care plan could cost state $40 billion

Chicago Tribune

Illinois stands to lose an estimated $40 billion in federal money over the next decade under the Republican health care proposal being considered in Congress, experts told state lawmakers Thursday.

The figure comes as state House Democrats sought to put a price tag on the potential impact of the plan on health care programs for the poor. The Republican proposal is backed by President Donald Trump, but it could change as federal lawmakers debate it.

The $40 billion projection is based on a report released this week by the Congressional Budget Office that said 24 million Americans would lose coverage by 2026 under the Republican plan, David Gross, senior vice president of government relations for the Illinois Health and Hospital Association, told lawmakers. The report said states could lose out on a possible $880 billion in federal funding over that same period.

"This is at a time when the state is not well positioned to absorb the costs," Gross said.

Officials pointed to two aspects of the GOP plan that would hurt the state's Medicaid system. One provision would cap how much the federal government reimburses states, which is different from the current system. States that exceed the cap would be responsible for shouldering the additional costs, something that could prove challenging for cash-strapped Illinois.

The proposal also would freeze Medicaid expansion in 2020. People enrolled before then would be allowed to stay in the program but only if they never leave the program. Anyone who loses coverage starting in 2020 couldn't re-enroll.

"We know from the data that this is really an end to the expansion, that people circulate off the Medicaid program. And this is not a gentle slope. This is a cliff for the Medicaid program," said Roberta Rakove, senior vice president for government and public affairs at Sinai Health System.

Rep. Tom Demmer, R-Dixon, said Thursday that lawmakers also should focus on problems with the Affordable Care Act put in place under Barack Obama when he was president. He cited one portion of the congressional report that said the Republican health care proposal would reduce federal costs and lower the deficit.

"There's not national support for sweeping changes to health care policy because people are happy with their insurance options or because they're happy with the way that health care policy looks today," Demmer said.

Democrats that control the Illinois House set up the hearing for Thursday as the health care debate rages in Washington, D.C., and kept the focus on the Medicaid program.

"We need to slow down because we are talking about poor people," said Rep. Mary Flowers, D-Chicago. "We're talking about vulnerable people."

hbemiller@chicagotribune.com

Twitter @haleybemiller

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