Administration, juggling dozens of big-money funding requests, pledges spending won’t exceed revenue
By JERRY NOWICKI
Capitol News Illinois
SPRINGFIELD – The state estimates an expansion of state-sponsored health care to individuals who are ineligible for Medicaid based on their citizenship status is expected to cost $990 million in the upcoming fiscal year, far outpacing the original price tag cited when the measures became law.
In 2020, Illinois made noncitizens aged 65 and older eligible for Medicaid-type coverage, becoming the first state to do so. The Health Benefits for Immigrant Seniors program is open to individuals whose income is below the federal poverty level.
It’s a cost born entirely by the state because the individuals are not eligible for the Medicaid program that is split roughly 50-50 between the state and the federal government.
The expansion was inserted into a late draft of what’s known as the budget implementation bill in the pandemic-shortened 2020 session. It was an initiative of the Illinois Legislative Latino Caucus and sponsored in the House by Rep. Delia Ramirez (D-Chicago) who has since moved on to the U.S. Congress.
She and other advocates said providing health care, especially preventative care, to immigrant populations would be cheaper than making them dependent on emergency room visits.
“You can pay taxes, you can do this, you can do that, you can be in this country for 25 years attempting to legalize, but you can’t get this basic health care, basic ability to stay alive, covered. If ever before, this pandemic has shown us how critical that is,” Ramirez was quoted in the Springfield State Journal-Register at the time.
Ramirez pegged the program’s Fiscal Year 2021 cost at $2 million, according to the newspaper.
The source of the initial estimate is unclear, although Gov. JB Pritzker’s administration said it had not prepared its own estimate before the program became law because it was a lawmaker-driven initiative. Republicans noted at a Thursday news conference that it was not thoroughly vetted in committee before being added to the budget.
The actual cost of the program far exceeded that estimate, and the program exceeded its FY 2021 appropriation within the first month of implementation, according to a closed-door presentation by the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services to lawmakers last month.
The cost of care for the 65 and over age group was nearly $188 million between March 2022 and February 2023, per that presentation.
Since the program’s initial passage, lawmakers have expanded it twice, lowering the age limit to 55 in 2021 and 42 a year later. The expanded program is known as Health Benefits for Immigrant Adults.