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Gov. Quinn wants Medicaid cuts, $1-per-pack cigarette-tax hike

Governor PQuinn. | Jean Lachat~Sun-Times

Governor Pat Quinn. | Jean Lachat~Sun-Times

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Updated: May 21, 2012 8:52AM

SPRINGFIELD-Smokers would have to fork over another $1 per pack to the state as part of a plan Gov. Pat Quinn pushed Thursday to close a $2.7 billion Medicaid gap.

The governor also proposed cutting health-care eligibility for more than 215,000 poor Illinoisans and decreasing rates the state pays to hospitals, clinics and other Medicaid providers by $675 million.

“I think members of the General Assembly may not be wildly excited about this plan, but it’s necessary,” Quinn said, describing the state’s Medicaid program as being “on the brink of collapse.”

Besides pushing the cigarette hike, Quinn proposed abolishing one of ex-Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s signature health-care initiatives, the Illinois Cares Rx program that serves 180,000 clients, and tightening eligibility for the Family Care program, affecting more than 26,000 people. More than 9,100 adults receiving general assistance also would lose Medicaid benefits under Quinn’s plan.

“These are difficult changes. If we don’t make these changes, we won’t have a system at all,” the governor said.

But Quinn’s bid to raise the 98-cent-a-pack cigarette tax by $1 — a move that would raise $337 million and make the state eligible for that much in federal matching dollars — that faces the greatest opposition.

In 2010 and again last year, the state Senate passed a cigarette tax increase only to see the initiative die in the House amid heavy lobbying from the tobacco industry and opposition from Republicans.

While Quinn pointed to the health benefits of raising cigarette taxes and noted the tax was raised five times under three earlier GOP governors, Republicans used the proposed tax increase as a main rallying point against Quinn’s plan.

“Because something was a good idea yesterday or last year or last decade doesn’t necessarily make it a good idea now,” said state Sen. Dale Righter (R-Mattoon), a member of a task force Quinn convened earlier this year to come up with ways to scale back Medicaid — a task on which the panel remains deadlocked.

“I’m pretty certain none of those cigarette taxes were passed a little over a year after a 67-percent increase in folks’ income taxes,” Righter said, referring to the cigarette-tax increases Quinn cited that passed under GOP governors.

Medicaid, which provides health care to 2.7 million poor Illinoisans, has been a burgeoning pressure on the state budget, accounting for 39 percent of overall spending.

This year alone, the state will be left with $1.9 billion in unpaid Medicaid bills, an amount that the fiscal watchdog group, the Civic Federation, forecast could reach $21 billion in five years.

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