Illinois Home Health Faces Budget ‘Armageddon’

Amid an Illinois budget stalemate that has lasted months and resulted in tens of millions of dollars owed to health care providers, some lawmakers and union representatives claim home health agencies face a budget “Armageddon.”

“Armageddon is here,” Terri Harkin, vice president of SEIU Healthcare Illinois and Indiana, told a Chicago CBS News affiliate. “This is not just the canary in the coal mine.”

Illinois has more than $235 million in backlog payments to home health care service providers, according to the union. This is due to a nine-month budget standoff in the Democratic-controlled state Legislature, as lawmakers and Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner have yet to agree on a budget for the 2016 fiscal year that began July 1.

The impasse has meant that higher education institutions and several social services haven’t been funded. Payments have also been delayed for many providers, including Addus HomeCare, Inc., one of the largest providers of in-home and adult day care services through Illinois’ Community Care Program for low-income seniors, according to Progress Illinois.

In fact, the state owes Addus more than $50 million in service payments, prompting the agency to consider taking legal action against the state after being denied a request for a caseload cap.

“The company is evaluating its options with regard to this denial, including potential legal action,” Addus Chief Development Officer Darby Anderson said in a statement.

The budget standoff and lack of funds for social services has had its impact, too, as the governor’s administration said it can’t afford overtime pay for Illinois home care workers now eligible for it when they work more than 40 hours a week. Gov. Rauner also issued an amendatory veto in November for a measure meant to block proposed home care cuts.

And frustration continues as legislators recently convened for the spring session and Gov. Rauner released his 2017 budget proposal, which included approximately $198 million in cuts from the Community Care Program. These cuts would stem from the governor’s plan to split the program into one subset for those covered by Medicaid and another for non-Medicaid clients.

“We are calling on the governor to account for the seniors and people with disabilities he is putting in harms way,” Rep. Sonya Harper (D-Chicago) said. “We are calling on him to stop using social service agencies as lending institutions for his political pleasures, and we are calling on him to get his priorities straight.”

Gov. Rauner isn’t ignoring home health care entirely, though, as earlier this week he announced the creation of a task force to root out waste, fraud and abuse in taxpayer-funded health care programs. Still, even his administration admits there’s no excuse for the stalemate.

“No one is more frustrated than Gov. Rauner by failure of the majority party to pass a balanced budget,” the governor’s office said in a statement. “By working together, we can achieve bipartisan compromise like we did when restoring child care funding and protecting senior care. We urge lawmakers to help enact structural reforms and a balanced budget to ensure care continues to our most vulnerable while getting Illinois on sound financial footing.”

Written by Kourtney Liepelt