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Gov. Quinn signs Medicaid cuts, cigarette tax into law

Illinois Gov. PQuinn speaks with reporters his office Illinois State Capitol Friday June 1 2012 Springfield Ill. (AP Photo/Seth Perlman)

Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn speaks with reporters in his office at the Illinois State Capitol Friday, June 1, 2012 in Springfield, Ill. (AP Photo/Seth Perlman)

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Updated: July 16, 2012 6:23AM

SPRINGFIELD — Gov. Pat Quinn put the finishing touch on one of his top spring legislative priorities Thursday by signing legislation plugging a $2.7 billion hole in the state’s health-care program for the poor, elderly and disabled.

The package Quinn enacted includes a $1-a-pack increase in cigarettes that takes effect June 24th and a $1.6 billion series of cuts to Medicaid programs.

 “One of our most important missions in Springfield this year was to save Medicaid from the brink of collapse,” Quinn said. “I applaud the members of our working group and of the General Assembly, who worked together in a bipartisan manner to tackle a grave crisis. As a result, we preserved our healthcare program that millions of our most vulnerable rely upon.”

The state’s current 98-cent-a-pack cigarette tax has been in place since 2002, and Illinois rested in the middle of the pack nationally among states with cigarette taxes. New York has the highest state cigarette tax in the country at $4.35 a pack.

In addition to cigarettes, the current legislation increases the tax on packs of “roll-your-own” cigarettes, “little cigars” and moist snuff from 18 percent to 36 percent of the product’s price.

The Medicaid cuts include termination of the Illinois Cares Rx prescription drug program for the low-income elderly and disabled and a $15 million-a-year program that provided nursing services to “medically fragile” children reliant on ventilators so they could remain in their homes rather than being moved full-time into hospitals.

Other Medicaid cuts implemented by Quinn will curtail access to adult dental services, adult eyeglasses and adult foot care, except in cases involving diabetes.

Quinn’s move drew criticism from advocates for the poor, who complained the governor and state lawmakers could have closed corporate “loopholes” to make up for Medicaid shortfalls rather than targeting the state’s most vulnerable population, particularly those who are losing Illinois Cares Rx services.

“The governor has repeatedly said these cuts are necessary to save Medicaid. That’s a false choice,” said William McNary, co-director of Citizen Action, which lobbied against the cuts.

“Saving money on the backs of the most vulnerable members of our community so other members of the community can have health care is like asking Sophie to choose between her daughter and her son’s life. There are going to be casualties,” he said.

Additionally, private Illinois hospitals would give the state a total of $290 million, with $50 million of that going to Medicaid and an additional $50 million from matching federal dollars.

In return, public hospitals would receive a tax credit equal to their property tax liability or the amount of free or discounted services they provided during the previous year.  Private hospitals would also be exempt from sales and property taxes if the amount of charity they provide is greater than their property tax liabilities.

The tobacco taxes together with matching federal money would bring in $700 million, and the hospital assessment money going toward Medicaid would be an additional $100 million. 

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