‘Balancing Budget on Medicaid Providers’

Published June 1, 2006

One Illinois lawmaker with firsthand knowledge of the impact of late Medicaid payments and low reimbursement rates is Senate Republican Leader Frank Watson (R-Greenville). Watson is a pharmacist and drugstore owner.

“The Blagojevich administration is literally balancing the budget on the backs of these Medicaid providers,” Watson said. “Right now it’s over 100 days delayed payment. It’s creating a financial problem for the entire health care industry. This administration borrowed $1 billion to bring those payments up to some reasonable delay, but that was last August, and now we find ourselves in a similar situation” to what existed before last year’s borrowing.

State Debt Triples

State budget reports show that since Blagojevich was sworn into office in 2003, the state’s general obligation debt has nearly tripled, from $7.6 billion to $20.3 billion.

“Now the governor comes along with the All Kids program, which is an insurance program funded through Medicaid for everyone under 19, including those who are here illegally. Is it realistic? What’s the cost? How is it going to be paid for? These are all unanswered questions,” Watson said. “This administration seems to want to expand the Medicaid base, and that’s what All Kids will be: a Medicaid program.”

Pharmacies Pay, Then Wait

Michael Patton, executive director of the Illinois Pharmacists Association, said most pharmacies in Illinois have to wait at least 120 days for payment, and he points out they must pay up front for their medicines.

“The margin for a conventional retail pharmacy is 1-1/2 to 2 percent,” Patton said. “When you consider they are being reimbursed through Medicare or state plans, a lot of pharmacies are getting reimbursed at less than their drug costs.

“As we’ve been talking, I’ve just received an email from one of my members,” Patton said. “He owns Doc’s Drugs, a family-owned chain of 16 stores across the north-central part of the state. He says the state owes him $1.374 million.”

— Steve Stanek