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Illinois Democrats discussing Medicaid expansion

Published: Thursday, May 22, 2014 10:06 p.m. CDT

SPRINGFIELD – Illinois Democrats are discussing expanding Medicaid spending at the same time Gov. Pat Quinn is laying out a "doomsday" budget if he doesn't get a temporary income tax increase extended.

The Springfield bureau of Lee Newspapers in Illinois reported Thursday that lawmakers are considering restoring dental care and podiatry services. They were eliminated in a 2012 reform aimed at saving $1.6 billion.

Rep. Greg Harris, a Chicago Democrat and leader on Medicaid, says restoration depends on having revenue to pay for it.

But he said it's worth a look because when patients seek treatment for ailments not covered, they go to the emergency room, and individual emergency room visits are more expensive than Medicaid-covered trips to the doctor.

"Some of these things are not working out quite the way we thought," Harris said.

Quinn, a Democrat, is seeking to keep the income tax at 5 percent, as it has been for four years in what was billed as a temporary hike, instead of letting it roll back to 3.75 percent in January. The typical taxpayer is paying $1,100 more this year because of the increase.

Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, said Wednesday there isn't enough support in the House to extend the increase. So Quinn is suggesting massive budget cuts would be necessary without the extra tax revenue.

State Sen. Heather Steans, a Chicago Democrat, said some of the proposed Medicaid changes are necessary to comply with new federal law. But she and Harris said a review of the cuts show that people were seeking help from emergency rooms.

"There were some things that just needed some refinement," Steans said.

Republicans say it is silly to talk about raising taxes to avoid steep spending cuts while at the same time discussing Medicaid spending increases.

"If you are a responsible leader," said Sen. Dale Righter, a Mattoon Republican, "you do things you don't want to because they are necessary."

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