Audit fuels criticism of Blagojevich on health-care programs

By Ray Long and Jeffrey Meitrodt
http://www.chicagotribune.com/

SPRINGFIELD — Comptroller Dan Hynes and several lawmakers used a stinging new audit to blast Gov. Rod Blagojevich‘s administration for trying to expand state-subsidized health care when the current state Medicaid program is racking up huge deficits and is sometimes taking months to pay doctors who care for the poor and elderly.

Auditor General William Holland’s examination provided the first hard evidence of how the administration has camouflaged the state’s budget problems by rolling over about $1.5 billion in Medicaid bills each year. Moreover, the report said, it is taking the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services an average of 77 days to pay doctors and pharmacists who are not associated with large hospitals.

“This is appalling and inexcusable,” Hynes said. “Health-care providers have been forced out of business as a result of the ongoing mismanagement of this program.”

Healthcare department director Barry Maram blamed the slower payments on state lawmakers, who trimmed $250 million from the governor’s health-care budget last year. But Maram insisted his department is doing a good job handling its money and has trimmed the Medicaid deficit from $2.2 billion in 2003.

Sen. Dale Righter (R-Charleston), who asked for the audit, scoffed at Maram’s claims, saying the department’s Medicaid deficit was just less than $1 billion when Blagojevich took office five years ago.

Governors, including Blagojevich, use the budgeting trick of rolling over payments beyond their due date to artificially boost the size of their states’checkbooks.

“The real problem here is the administration’s unwillingness to recognize that there are deep-seated problems in this program,” Righter said.

Rep. Frank Mautino (D-Spring Valley) said he was especially troubled by the audit’s finding that the state is taking nearly three months before telling many providers that a payment request has been rejected.

would have trouble correcting those claims because the state was citing more than 100 reasons that weren’t in the state handbook and thus couldn’t be recognized by the providers.

rlong@tribune.com

jmeitrodt@tribune.com

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