Chicago Sun-Times
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House votes to implement Obamacare, expand Medicaid

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SPRINGFIELD-The Democratic-led Illinois House Monday turned back GOP opposition and approved an expansion of the state's Medicaid program in order to implement President Barack Obama's signature domestic achievement, Obamacare, in his home state.

The plan passed 63-55 and now moves to the Illinois Senate, which has until this Friday's scheduled legislative adjournment to sign off on the package and get it to Gov. Pat Quinn.

The governor expressed support for the legislation, urging Senate passage and saying it would "improve the health of hundreds of thousands of the most vulnerable people across Illinois and create thousands of good jobs in the health care field."

Under the plan, Senate Bill 26, 342,000 currently uninsured Illinoisans without children would be eligible for the first time to participate in Medicaid, the state's health insurance program for the poor and disabled.

"This is a watershed moment for Democrats, a watershed moment for people who have been waiting for health care their entire life," said Rep. Sara Feigenholtz (D-Chicago), the bill's chief House sponsor.

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, Feigenholtz 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.

Debate lasted more than two hours on the legislation to implement Obamacare, with Republicans predicting it would wind up bankrupting the state. The GOP critics argued the cost of covering newly eligible Illinoisans would total $573 million, with the state eventually owing another $2.3 billion to cover others who are unaware of their eligibility and who are not fully reimbursed by federal dollars.

"I think it's very irrational, if not totally irresponsible, to go down a path to increase insurance...when we can't pay for it. This state is under water, and it's going to take a long time before the salvage operation to pull us [up] is complete," said Rep. Dwight Kay (R-Glen Carbon). "To put more people into the system with the promise we can pay is simply not true."

Monday's roll call included seven Democratic "no" votes. They included Reps. Jack Franks (D-Marengo), Stephanie Kifowit (D-Aurora) Martin Moylan (D-Des Plaines), Natalie Manley (D-Joliet), Sam Yingling (D-Round Lake Beach), Katherine Cloonen (D-Kankakee) and Sue Scherer (D-Decatur).

House Majority Leader Barbara Flynn Currie (D-Chicago), who voted for the plan, said it would result in a financial windfall for Illinois because of an influx of $5.7 billion in federally-reimbursed Medicaid expenditures in Illinois, including for 48,000 veterans who would be newly covered under Monday's expansion.

"The real point of this bill isn't dollars and cents, although we make out like bandits if we pass Senate Bill 26," Currie said. "The real point of Senate Bill 26 is to make for healthier Illinoisans."

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