SPRINGFIELD-- The Illinois Senate advanced legislation Thursday to transfer $6.6 million to the cash-strapped fund that licenses doctors in Illinois and to increase the licensing fees doctors pay to cover the tab.
The money would go to the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation's medical disciplinary fund and would be used to process its growing backlog of doctors' license applications.
The agency's paperwork overload is so immense because it had to reassign 18 of its 26 medical unit employees last month due to a fund shortfall of $9.6 million. All of the fund's revenue is generated from doctors' licensing fees, which haven't changed since 1987.
Without the emergency infusion of money into the fund, proponents of the legislation fear the state will lose doctors and scare away medical students looking for a place to start their careers.
"A lot of residents are graduating next month, and a lot of them who do want to come won't because 18 employees laid off can't do the paperwork," said Sen. Antonio Munoz (D-Chicago). "If we don't do something to get this [done], we won't get the pick of these doctors. They'll leave to go to other states because they won't wait the 10 months to a year to get their license."
Under the legislation, sponsored by Senate President John Cullerton (D-Chicago), the state would borrow the $6.6 million from its local government tax fund and pay the money back in six installments starting July 1, 2104 and ending Jan. 1, 2018.
To foot that bill, doctors' licensing fees would increase from $300 to $700 for three-year licenses until July 1, 2018 when they would be lowered to $500. The fee to renew a license would also increase from $100 to $230 per year for Illinois residents until 2018 when it would be lowered to $167.
The legislation passed in the Senate with a mostly partisan 38-19 vote where the majority of debate focused on the fee increase for doctors.
"Doctors agreed to a fee of $500," Cullerton said. "This is a $700 fee for four and a half years. That's a fee paid once every three years. We're talking about less than $70 a year that we're disagreeing with the doctors on.
"I get their point, but we have a potential crisis here because we have a number of
doctors that may truly not come to this state [because of the backlog]."
With its passage in the Senate, the bill has moved to the House chamber where Speaker Michael Madigan (D-Chicago) is sponsoring it.
Meanwhile, the Senate voted 53-2 Thursday to send a bill to Gov. Pat Quinn that would give the governor two additional weeks to submit a state budget for the next fiscal year.