As Congress prepares to replace the Affordable Care Act, it is essential that the Medicaid expansion provision of the law be protected.
Any rollback of federal Medicaid coverage would be particularly harmful to Illinois, especially as our state grapples with budget deficits, an opioid epidemic, and an overburdened criminal justice system.
Under the ACA, Illinois was among the majority of states that expanded Medicaid, which provides federally-funded health insurance for low-income people. In a January letter to congressional leaders, the Rauner administration expressed concern about potential changes to Medicaid, pointing out that 3.2 million Illinoisans—almost one-quarter of the state’s population—are enrolled in coverage.
Reducing Medicaid coverage would deprive Illinois of millions of dollars per year in federal support. As an example, in behavioral health services alone, the state would have to replace an estimated $80 million per year in federal Medicaid resources to pay for community-based substance use and mental health services that would support alternatives to incarceration and reentry initiatives.
Second, such changes would fly in the face of efforts to address the opioid epidemic that is devastating Illinois communities. Nineteen Illinois sheriffs, prosecutors, and police chiefs recently signed a letter to Congress urging action against any policy changes that would make it even harder for low-income individuals to access addiction and/or mental health treatment. Lack of treatment access impairs law enforcement’s ability to prevent overdose deaths and to make our communities safer.
Finally, rolling back Medicaid coverage would hamstring Illinois’ successful bipartisan progress toward reforming the criminal justice system. Coverage for addiction and mental health services is essential to the state’s strategy for preventing crime, reducing recidivism, and avoiding the $41,000 per person annual average cost of incarceration for those whose non-violent offenses stem from untreated health conditions.
It is well recognized that there are aspects of the Affordable Care Act that must be overhauled. However, as changes are made, and to expound on what the Governor’s administration and criminal justice experts have written, it would be foolhardy and counter-productive if those changes include an attack on Medicaid coverage. Illinois can ill afford such a loss.
Pamela F .Rodriguez is president and CEO of Treatment Alternatives for Safe Communities (TASC, Inc.) and a member of Governor Rauner’s Illinois State Commission on Criminal Justice and Sentencing Reform.