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GOP dings Gov. Pat Quinn for not starting Medicaid eligibility checks until after fall election

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SPRINGFIELD-A money-saving effort that could knock thousands of ineligible Medicaid recipients off the state dole hasn't been launched yet by Gov. Pat Quinn's office, prompting a clash Monday between the administration and GOP critics over whether the delay is a part of an election-year equation not to alienate Democratic voters.

In June, the governor approved the plan to "scrub" the state's Medicaid rolls of ineligible recipients as part of a $2.7 billion reduction to the state health-care program for the poor, elderly and disabled that would "save Medicaid from the brink of collapse."

But nearly a quarter of the way into the state's fiscal year, that effort has not gotten underway, leading the top House Republican to accuse Quinn of playing politics on the issue.

"It's convenient the implementation doesn't start until after the election, and it would be a constituency that would support him and Democrats," said House Minority Leader Tom Cross (R-Oswego), who made the accusation at a Springfield press conference also attended by Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno (R-Lemont).

"It's a fair question," Cross continued, referring to the chance of a campaign-related delay in going after ineligible Medicaid recipients. "We'd certainly believe that's a possibility."

Republicans believe as many as 300,000 people could be purged from the state's Medicaid program by the eligibility check, though the Quinn administration believes that figure is high.

Top Quinn aides branded Monday's partisan attack as "100-percent false" and said the Department of Healthcare and Human Services acted within the required 90-day timeframe after Quinn signed the Medicaid cuts into law to hire a company to oversee the scrubbing effort.

Last Thursday, the state hired Reston, Va.-based Maximus Health Services in a two-year, $76 million deal.

Mike Claffey, spokesman for the Department of Healthcare and Family Services, said the actual scrubbing process won't begin until Jan. 1 to allow Maximus time to set up a call center, establish protocols in dealing with state workers and finalize "data agreements" to access income and other eligibility databases that will be used.

"That's an absurd point to try to make to say any of this has anything to do with an election. It's not true," Claffey said, responding to the GOP charges. "The fact is it's an enormously complicated undertaking, and we're getting it done quite rapidly."

Even though Quinn approved a Medicaid-cuts package predicated on $350 million in savings from getting rid of ineligible Medicaid recipients, Claffey cast doubts on whether that much money actually can be saved.

"It's a very aggressive target. We're not sure if we're going to meet those savings," he said. "We don't know how many people will be bumped...but we'll certainly find out."

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