An Alarming Opportunity for Illinois

Derek Malone is one of the hundreds of thousands of low-income Illinoisans who are not currently eligible for Medicaid and, therefore, often has to go without health care. A Chicago reporter, Judith Graham, reports in her article Mind the Information Gap:

“Derek Malone sat outside Cook County’s Fantus Clinic in the brilliant fall sunshine, looking tired and discouraged. His stomach hurt and he felt dizzy. It’d been weeks since the 55-year-old had taken medications for his high blood pressure and intestinal ailments—prescriptions he says he can’t afford.

‘Ten dollars for a co-pay, I don’t have that,’ said Malone, who’s been unemployed and homeless since earlier this year, when his daughter lost a job at a McDonald’s and stopped paying her father to look after her four young children.”

If Illinois fails to pass the pending legislation authorizing the “new Medicaid,” Malone and others experiencing deep poverty will continue to be excluded from affordable health care.

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) offers an unprecedented opportunity for Illinois to provide health coverage to approximately 342,000 low-income residents like Malone who are suffering without much-needed health care and prescriptions. In our state, hundreds of thousands of non-elderly adults are not able to access health care, regardless of their income level. Medicaid in Illinois currently covers children, pregnant women, parents, adults with disabilities, and seniors.

Because of the ACA, Illinois can offer Medicaid to this population at no expense to the state for the first three years, and in later years the state will never pay more than 10% of the cost of this coverage (with federal funds covering the remaining 90%).

The ACA requires that most everyone obtain health insurance by 2014. However, individuals under 100% of the federal poverty level ($11,170/year for an individual and $15,130/year for a couple) — more than four out of five individuals in the new eligibility group — will not qualify for subsidies to buy health insurance on the Exchanges.

Implementing new Medicaid coverage in Illinois is not only fair, but it will save money and lives. Each year Illinois would receive close to $2 billion in new federal dollars and the amount of uncompensated care will decline. Access to low-cost preventive and comprehensive care, including prescription drugs, mental and behavioral services, as well as substance abuse treatment will help to keep newly-eligible adults out of costly emergency rooms while also improving health outcomes and saving lives.

SB 26 sponsored by Senator Heather Steans would authorize Illinois to implement the new eligibility for Medicaid and will likely be voted on in the Senate today, February 28. Call or email your Senator now and urge them to vote YES to SB 26!

Our friends, Faith Caucus of the Campaign for Better Health Care, invite you and your church to participate in the annual “SOUND THE ALARM for Health Care Justice!” — March 8–10 — to inform congregants about opportunities to advocate for SB 26 and the faithful implementation of the ACA.

As a result of the U.S. Supreme Court decision in June upholding the ACA, states have the option of whether or not to participate in the Medicaid component. There is strong opposition in Illinois against the new Medicaid coverage. Voices of faith are needed to ensure that quality, accessible, and affordable health care is available to all.

We can’t afford to pass up this historical opportunity for health care justice. Join us to sound the alarm.

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