AP NEWS

Foster parents, ACLU resist Illinois Medicaid plan change

November 16, 2019

CHICAGO (AP) — Foster parents and child care advocates are resisting a new Illinois Medicaid health care plan that is set to roll out next year, questioning whether it will adequately serve the needs of foster children.

The plan, which is scheduled to begin Feb. 1, will be run by the private contractor IlliniCare Health. The shift is part of a yearslong effort to reduce the state’s Medicaid costs while attempting to improve services for low-income and disabled residents who qualify for the federal program, the Chicago Tribune reported.

The new plan will enroll more than 36,000 current and former foster children in a Medicaid managed care system. Under managed care, states outsource the operation of the program, said Anthony T. Lo Sasso, an economics professor at DePaul University.

But the change has faced pushback from foster parents and the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois, which asked the state this month to delay the shift. It said rushing the process will “result in chaotic disruption in children’s care, wasted time, and wasted money.”

“Our goal instead is to prevent a rushed, disorderly and counterproductive rollout,” the ACLU said in a letter to the state Department of Children and Family Services, adding that it doesn’t oppose managed care.

The ACLU, which represents the state’s foster children in a federal consent decree, named 14 areas of the plan that need work. Specifically, it cited concerns about a lack of community-based behavioral health services that would allow children to be treated without being sent to residential facilities.

The plan, called YouthCare, has hired about 200 employees, including health coordinators and operations staff, who will conduct health screenings and help foster parents and former youth in care set up appointments and find doctors.

Molly Hamilton, 37, has been a foster parent for four years and said she likes the current system.

“Why are we changing something that is not wrong?” said Hamilton, who cares for three foster children in her Berwyn home.

Lo Sasso said he thinks the shift to for-profit companies will be more cost-effective. The state will typically pay the managed care company a fixed rate for each plan participant. Under the current system, the state reimburses providers for every service or treatment performed.

“The private plan has an incentive to make sure it enrolls efficient providers ... and looks out for waste and abuse and that type of thing in the system, and the state can get out of that difficult business,” Lo Sasso said.

Theresa Eagleson, the director of the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services, said it’s a common misconception that the change is driven by cost reduction.

“We believe that these children, as well as many others in the state, deserve coordinated whole-person health care,” Eagleson said. “Managing or integrating care is about that philosophy, not about saving money. It’s about providing better care to people.”

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Information from: Chicago Tribune, http://www.chicagotribune.com