Experts: 'Repeal and replace' would hurt local health care

Whiteside County Health Department could lose $700,000 a year

Illinois health care experts say the state would face a $40 billion loss in federal Medicaid support under a health care overhaul proposed by congressional Republicans.

Three state House committees heard testimony Thursday from health care experts about how major changes to Medicaid outlined in the American Health Care Act would impact Illinois recipients.

Locally, the proposed Medicaid changes could have a huge impact on the Whiteside County Health Department's services.

Whiteside County Public Health Administrator Beth Fiorini said 54 percent of the clinic's patients use Medicaid, and that number increased by 11 percent through the Affordable Care Act.

"If we lost our expanded Medicaid, about $700,000 of annual income would be lost," Fiorini said.

Fiorini said she also is concerned about insured patients at the clinic. The number of insured patients the health department sees jumped from 13 percent to 18 percent since the Affordable Care Act kicked in, she said. Most of the clinic's patients also receive insurance supplements through Obamacare.

"I think that expanded Medicaid must stay, and there must be some tweaking of insurance co-pays because they are too high already," Fiorini said.

Given the financial situation in Illinois, it doesn't seem likely that the state would pick up any of the lost Medicaid money. If the cost of health insurance is too great under the GOP plan, people might drop coverage and rely instead on emergency rooms.

"Anything that would reduce Medicaid and cause people to lose their insurance is harmful to patients and communities," Fiorini said. "Some people would still come to the clinic on a sliding charge and pay what they can, but some will stop going to the doctor, or go to emergency rooms – and if that happens everyone loses."

Prescription medications also could be out of reach for many people if they were to lose Medicaid or insurance.

"Many people, especially if they are on expensive medications like insulin, will just stop taking their meds," Fiorini said.

Addiction treatment could suffer a setback, too.

The health department currently has 25 people taking costly medications to stay off heroin and other opioids.

"Collectively, those prescriptions are thousands of dollars a week, and without Medicaid, I don't know how they'll be able to stay off heroin," Fiorini said.

President Donald Trump supports the GOP plan as a replacement for the Affordable Care Act. Experts testified that the $40 billion reduction would come over the act's 10-year life span. That figure is based on recent estimates from the Congressional Budget Office.

Democratic state Rep. Greg Harris of Chicago is chairman of the appropriations committee for human services. He says a quarter of Illinois citizens receive Medicaid benefits and they could be affected. Illinois spends $10 billion each year on Medicaid.

After the nonpartisan report from the Congressional Budget Office was released, U.S. Rep. Cheri Bustos, D-East Moline, called out Trump for breaking a campaign promise.

“During the campaign, President Trump promised he would never cut Medicaid, and with this report, he has officially broken that promise by cutting nearly $1 trillion from this vital lifeline for seniors, children with disabilities, and pregnant women," Bustos said in a news release.

Republicans have hidden their health care repeal plan for nearly 7 years because they knew it would lead to higher costs, worse care, and less coverage for millions of Americans, Bustos said.

"We need to work together to lower out-of-pocket costs and bring down prescription drug prices, but this ‘pay more for less’ bill would take us in the wrong direction by hurting seniors, children and hardworking families," the 17th District congresswoman said.

– The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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