Chicago Sun-Times
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Bill to borrow $6.6 million and increase doctors' licensing fees passes House, moves to Quinn's desk

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SPRINGFIELD-The Illinois House passed legislation Thursday to transfer $6.6 million to the cash-strapped fund that licenses and regulates the state's doctors and to increase the licensing fees doctors pay to cover the cost.

The measure, sponsored by House Speaker Michael Madigan (D-Chicago), passed through the House by a 65-49 margin and now moves to Gov. Pat Quinn's desk for final approval. The bill had passed in the Senate last month with a 38-19 vote.

The funds would go to the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation's medical disciplinary fund to be used to process the fund's growing backlog of doctors' license applications.

The agency's paperwork overload resulted from the agency having to reassign 18 of its 26 medical unit employees in January due to a fund shortfall of $9.6 million. The fund's revenue is generated from doctors' licensing fees, which have been set at $100 a year since 1987.

During debate of the measure, at least one House member brought up the issue of funds like this one being "swept" by previous administrations, meaning the money was borrowed from the fund to be used elsewhere.

"There are dollars out there that could have solved the problem without getting to this point," said Rep. David Harris (R-Arlington Heights). "Why should the doctors be any different than any other fund that's been swept?"

Harris actually endorsed the bill, though, because like others he fears the state will lose doctors and scare away medical students looking for a place to start their careers if the emergency infusion of funds is not made.

"If we're not able to say to those students, 'We can get you your license in a reasonable amount of time,' not one of them will come to Illinois," said Rep. Barbara Flynn Currie, a chief sponsor of the bill.

Under the legislation, the state would borrow the $6.6 million from its local government tax fund, which contains more than $1 billion, and pay the money back in three installments starting July 1, 2014 and ending Jan. 1, 2015. If the state fails to repay the money, local municipalities could take the state to court, Currie suspects.

To cover the cost of the borrowed funds, doctors' licensing fees would increase from $300 to $700 for three-year licenses until July 1, 2018 when they would be lowered to $600.

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