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Medicaid a minefield ready to blow

Published: Friday, July 26, 2013 9:27 a.m. CDT

(MCT) — It looks as though Illinois — always a sucker for a get-broke-quick scheme — has found the perfect fit in a massive expansion of its Medicaid program.

Not content just to dance on the minefield of insolvency with its pension system, Gov. Pat Quinn this week incorporated a whole new layer of dysfunction by adding more than a half million people to the list of those eligible for Medicaid coverage. It is estimated 3.3 million Illinoisans — better than one in four — will get some sort of benefits when the changes are applied.

Attempts to find middle ground by tightening eligibility requirements or scaling back the amount being paid out have been met with denial after denial.

The expansion is one of the cornerstones of President Barack Obama’s health-care initiative formally known as the Affordable Care Act, but collectively referred to as Obamacare. That’s likely why Quinn — arguably the best friend fellow Democrat Obama has in state government — was so effusive when signing the agreement.

“Thanks to this law and our shared commitment to increasing access to health-care coverage in Illinois, the people of Illinois will be healthier and have a higher quality of life,” Quinn said.

Nice words, now let’s talk about the cost.

See, Medicaid in Illinois is already one of the most wasteful programs. Little or poor oversight has allowed thousands to remain on the dole despite no longer being eligible. That situation will only become compounded with more and more people being added.

Ah, but the cost …

The federal government is picking up 100 percent of the costs through 2016, then 90 percent for the next four years. After that, there’s no telling — but Medicaid has always been a whipping boy for the budget-makers and an easy target when cuts have to be made.

Initially, there would be cost savings to the state, perhaps even some revenue as a result of the deal. But the future would be too much of a question mark to take the gamble.

In under 10 years, the entire cost, or at least the bulk of it, could be dumped right back in the lap of Illinois taxpayers.

We can foresee state leaders doing the same thing they have done with the pension system that is swallowing millions upon millions of dollars.

Nothing, except for passing the problem down the road. What we can’t afford now, we strap onto the backs of our children and grandchildren or steal from the pockets of schools, businesses and taxpayers.

There’s been too much of that already. Commitments and promises — both kept and un-kept — have drained the state’s bank and pushed more burden onto taxpayers.

We expect this is just going to be more of the same.

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This editorial first appeared in The Telegraph, Alton, Ill.

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