UPDATED 01/06/10 6:38 a.m.

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (WBBM) — Medicaid reform is on a fast track at the state Capitol, where it won a unanimous vote in the Senate Wednesday.

The changes in the bill would require at least half of Medicaid clients to go into HMO-style managed care by 2015.

The plan would also make it easier to move people from expensive institutions into residential care. There are also measures to keep ineligible people from entering the program.

Lawmakers say the changes could save $160 million a year or more.

As WBBM Newsradio 780’s Melissa Hahn reports, bill sponsor Sen. Heather Steans (D-Chicago) says Illinois has 2.8 million people in the program, and says this will improve health, and the program’s bottom line.

LISTEN: Newsradio 780’s Melissa Hahn Reports

“We’re estimating that this bill in front of you will have at least $800 million in savings over five years,” Steans said.

Critics say Medicaid reform is one of several reform plans designed to entice Republicans into voting for pension borrowing, or even a tax hike. But state Sen. Matt Murphy (R-Palatine) doesn’t agree.

“I don’t really think there’s any connection between them, and I never have, to be perfectly honest,” Murphy said. “We need to do Medicaid reform because we need to do Medicaid reform.”

The bill now moves to the state House of Representatives.