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Quinn Calls For Tax Hike, Service Cuts To Help Fix Medicaid

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Gov. Pat Quinn discusses his plan to save $2.7 billion in costs on Medicaid spending, through a variety of program cuts and a $1-per-pack cigarette tax hike. (Credit: CBS)

Gov. Pat Quinn discusses his plan to save $2.7 billion in costs on Medicaid spending, through a variety of program cuts and a $1-per-pack cigarette tax hike. (Credit: CBS)

CBS Chicago (con't)

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SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (CBS) – Trying to save $2.7 billion on Medicaid costs, Gov. Pat Quinn said Thursday his job is to tell lawmakers not what they want to hear, but what they need to hear.

The governor’s proposal for a $1-per-pack cigarette tax hike might have the lawmakers telling Quinn what he doesn’t want to hear: “No.”

But that proposal, meant to garner federal matching money, is part of Quinn’s Medicaid “stabilization” plan, which he rolled out Thursday afternoon.

“If we don’t rescue the system today, it will get worse day after day,” Quinn said.

LISTEN: WBBM Newsradio’s Dave Dahl reports

Half of the $2.7 billion in Medicaid savings would come from cuts and efficiencies across 58 areas – including trying to curb waste, fraud, and abuse.

Another quarter of the governor’s plan – about $675 million – would come from rate reductions to Medicaid providers.

The cigarette tax plan would account the remaining quarter of the governor’s plan – $337.5 million in higher taxes, and $337.5 in federal matching funds.

The cigarette tax hike would bring the taxes on cigarettes in Chicago to $4.66 per pack, second only to New York City.

It’s left smokers feeling like scapegoats.

Alan Butt said elected officials always seem to turn to a cigarette tax hike when they’re looking for a way to get more money.

“Let’s stick it to them again. It’s tiresome. It’s ridiculous,” Butt said.

Quinn, who reminded reporters during a Capitol news conference that the tobacco tax has gone up more than once under Republican governors, said research indicates the tax has another effect: encouraging people to quit smoking, thus incurring less medical expense.

“The proven strategy of preventing more people from smoking and continuing to smoke is to raise the price of cigarettes. That’s just common sense,” Quinn said

Quinn said the alternative to the cigarette tax hike would be a grim choice for lawmakers.

“You see how excited some legislators get if even one facility is proposed to be closed. Well, if they want to cut another $675 million out of the rest of the budget, they’re gonna have more facilities closed, and less money for our schools,” Quinn said. “I don’t think that’s a prudent strategy at all.”

Critics said other parts of the proposal don’t make any sense, or save money in the long run – such as cuts to expensive combination pills used to treat HIV.

Daliah Mehdi, with the Aids Foundation of Chicago, said patients are much more likely to take a combination pill, rather than than several different prescriptions.

“Taking medications in HIV is critically important, because it controls the amount of virus in the person’s body. It keeps them healthy, and it also prevents them from transmitting HIV to other people,” she said.

Critics also slammed other proposed cuts in Medicaid spending. Under Quinn’s plan, various prescription drugs would be limited or cut, adult dental services would end, and limits on adult diapers for patients with incontinence would be cut from 300 per month to 200 per month.

The governor has said he will keep lawmakers in Springfield this summer if they don’t cut $2.7 billion in Medicaid costs by the scheduled May 31 adjournment date.

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