A federal judge Wednesday ordered Comptroller Susana Mendoza to make a “substantial” dent in a $2 billion backlog of bills owed to Medicaid providers in order to keep doctors and hospitals from cutting off care for the low-income families that rely on the program.
The ruling came in response to complaints from patients who said the state was falling behind on the payments as it tries to manage its cash flow in the midst of a nearly two-year budget impasse in Springfield. Mendoza’s office conceded in a filing with the court that the comptroller had prioritized payments for other expenses like state employee salaries, pension contributions and debt service — which are written into state law or required by state courts — over the Medicaid bills.
U.S. District Judge Joan Lefkow said in her ruling that “although the court means no disrespect to the comptroller, who faces an unenviable situation,” putting state-mandated payments ahead of the Medicaid bills was a violation of federal consent decrees and court orders designed to ensure that poor people in Illinois have access to care.
Lefkow ordered the lawyers for the state and those representing Medicaid recipients to get together and “negotiate with the goal of achieving substantial compliance with the consent decrees.” The judge gave them until June 20 to reach a deal. She noted that the patients are not seeking immediate payment of the pile of unpaid bills, just payments that would be “sufficient to sustain the services to members of the classes.”