Chicago Sun-Times
Staff reports on all things politics - from City Hall to Springfield to Washington, D.C.

Senate passes ObamaCare-driven Medicaid expansion

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SPRINGFIELD-Despite a GOP outcry, the Illinois Senate signed off Thursday on an expansion of the state's Medicaid program as part of President Barack Obama's health-care overhaul.

Gov. Pat Quinn praised the Senate's 40-19 vote as a move that would help "increase access to health coverage for the uninsured." The measure now moves to the House.

"This is clearly the right, moral, fiscal thing to do," said state Sen. Heather Steans (D-Chicago), the bill's chief Senate sponsor.

Under the plan, Senate Bill 26, she said 342,000 currently uninsured Illinoisans would be eligible for the first time to participate in Medicaid, the state's health insurance program for the poor and disabled.

The federal government would fully reimburse the state for its costs for the first three years then cover 90 percent of costs in subsequent years, Steans said.

The expansion would provide coverage to individuals making 133 percent of the federal poverty level -- or $14,856 annually. A family of four with household income of $30,656 annually could participate.

Senate Republicans complained that even with the federal subsidies, the cash-strapped state can ill afford taking on more spending obligations when it has $9 billion in unpaid bills and a $97 billion unfunded pension liability that has left Illinois' credit rating in tatters.

"This is a massive expansion of a program that's already been bankrupting the state. We're going from 2.3 million and adding 600,000 people in one year," said state Sen. Matt Murphy (R-Palatine).

"I know the president used to sit in this chamber. I know many of you are awed by him. But this is not good policy for a state that came into this situation in already horrible shape," he said.

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