Judge rules Illinois not in compliance on Medicaid payments, Heartland community feels pain

(Source: KFVS)
(Source: KFVS)

CHICAGO (KFVS/AP) - A federal judge in Chicago said Illinois isn't in compliance with court orders to promptly pay health-care bills for low-income and other vulnerable groups even as the state heads into a third year without a budget.

Wednesday's ruling by Judge Joan Lefkow said officials "have not lived up to their agreements" in the civil case. She added the comptroller "faces an unenviable situation" in deciding which bills to pay but that its approach doesn't comply with standing courts orders.

But court order or not, one Cairo, Illinois mom, Kanci Houston, said her children need that care.

"That shouldn't be anything that you have to worry about," Houston explained.

The single mom of three works and lives in Alexander County.

According to Fred Bernstein, the CEO of Community Health and Emergency Services, Inc., a health service provider, 63 percent of Alexander County's population uses Medicaid.

Due to Houston's income, she qualifies for Medicaid assistance.

"I do pay taxes to the state of Illinois, that you know, if needed, if needed I should be able to receive Medicaid benefits," she said.

She's a full-time mom, with a full-time job.

"I work every day, Monday through Friday, it's very concerning. It doesn't seem like it should be so hard to offer health care to the citizen," Houston said.

Houston gets her health care services from Community Health and Emergency Services, Inc.

As the CEO, Bernstein said he also feels the pain.

"Poverty affects us profoundly, both at the organizational level and in terms of the patients we serve," he said.

According to Bernstein, due to the changes in state funding, CHESI has taken a hit as well.

"It's a very difficult situation for us," he said. "When you are working in the poorest counties in the state and not receiving the payments you expect or earn, it's an extremely difficult burden to bear."

He even had to reduce his own salary.

"Well you do what you have to do to try and get by," Bernstein explained.

In the meantime, Kanci Houston hopes her children don't have to suffer.

"I want to just you know… be able to know I have this medical card, I can use it as I need to, I'm going to get good service, my children are going to get good service and we are going to live happy, healthy lives," Houston said.

Despite criticism, Judge Joan Lefkow did not order Illinois to pay $2 billion in unpaid Medicaid bills immediately and in full. That could have deepened the financial crisis.

Lefkow's ruling instructs the state and Medicaid recipients to negotiate a sufficient payment of bills to ensure critical medical care isn't jeopardized.

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Copyright 2017 KFVS. All rights reserved. The Associated Press also contributed to this story.