“Beginning today, Larry Bonner must make sure he gets prior approval from the state to continue receiving the prescription drugs he needs for chronic pain, asthma, arthritis, diabetes, heart problems and mental illness.
As $1.6 billion in cuts to Illinois’ Medicaid program take effect, Bonner is among 200,000 people who will have to work with their doctors to obtain authorization from the state if they need more than four prescriptions.
Bonner, 56, of Springfield, has been unemployed for years and lives on food stamps and federal disability payments related to his health problems. He takes more than 20 prescription drugs.
Now, he worries that he or his doctors will slip up on paperwork needed to meet the new state requirements. That would result in him going without his medicine, at least temporarily.
“That wouldn’t be pretty,” he said. “I live in pain constantly, every day. I can’t go without my medicine.”
The cuts in Illinois are among the most severe in recent memory. They take effect only days after the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of a federal law, the Affordable Care Act, that is expected to bring a major expansion of health-care coverage in 2014.
Illinois’ cuts, approved by the General Assembly and Gov. Pat Quinn for fiscal 2013, were in response to a multibillion-dollar budget deficit and a huge backlog of Medicaid bills, all made worse by a sagging economy.
The 200,000 people to be affected by the prior-approval rules represent about 7 percent of the 2.7 Illinoisans on Medicaid, a program funded in almost equal parts by the state and federal government.
The cuts to medical-assistance programs will remove 26,400 working parents from the FamilyCare insurance program, saving the state $50 million.
Medicaid payments to hospitals, nursing homes and supportive living centers will be reduced, and there will be many cuts in specific health-care services.
Most dental services for adults on Medicaid will be eliminated, except in emergencies, so the state won’t pay for fillings, crowns or dentures but will pay for teeth to be pulled.
And the Illinois Cares Rx program, funded exclusively with state dollars, is no more, saving an estimated $72 million. At least 145,000 senior citizens and people with disabilities enrolled in the program will have to pay more — sometimes hundreds of dollars more each month — for their prescription drugs.
“It’s really unfortunate that we’re cutting health care at a time when having health care for everyone is on the horizon in 2014,” said Margaret Stapleton, director of community justice at the Chicago-based Sargeant Shriver National Center on Poverty Law. “That causes suffering and death.”