Reality check: 'Alice in Wonderland' view just doesn't add up

Reality check: 'Alice in Wonderland' view just doesn't add up

By Julie Hamos

At a time when real solutions are crucial for the future of Illinois, we need to make sure we don't fall down Alice in Wonderland's rabbit hole.

In his April 13 Op-Ed "Medicaid growth gobbles more money," Rep. Chad Hays claims Illinois is now spending more money than any year on record. In reality, the discretionary cost of running state government in Fiscal Year 2014 is more than $1 billion below that of FY 2008.

In fact, state spending has been cut by $5.7 billion during the past five years — which happened by taking tough steps like overhauling Medicaid, cutting waste, negotiating a historic collective bargaining agreement with unprecedented savings for taxpayers and implementing comprehensive workers' compensation reform.

Gov. Pat Quinn's administration reduced the state's bill backlog by $5 billion, from $9.9 billion in November 2010 to $4.9 billion at the end of FY 2014 — which mirrors the industry standard of a 30-day bill cycle.

The savings don't end there: There are 4,000 fewer state workers today than in 2009, and Gov. Quinn achieved comprehensive pension reform last year that was hailed by Moody's Investor's Service as what "may be the largest reform package implemented by any U.S. state."

Hays, by the way, voted against pension reform.

Even while implementing historic cost-savings measures and budget reductions, the Quinn administration has done it with compassion, preserving the safety net to protect the most vulnerable. Just a few years ago, Medicaid was on the verge of bankruptcy, with $2 billion in overdue bills that had been pushed off for payment.To fix the problem, the Quinn Administration led a bipartisan effort which resulted in the SMART (Save Medicaid Access and Resources Together) Act reforms.

The SMART Act has helped reduce Medicaid spending by $3.2 billion in just the last two years.

Under the act's Section 25 statutory caps, bill payment is required out of the current year's appropriations.Through SMART Act implementation, we have brought fiscal discipline to the Medicaid program and are managing our budget growth.

Our redesign of Medicaid is expected to bring even more savings for Illinois in the future. By bringing models of managed, coordinated care to more than half of our Medicaid population by the end of this year, we fully expect these networks to provide higher-quality care and produce better health outcomes for our clients.

With the combination of people buying private health insurance and the new Medicaid enrollees under the Affordable Care Act, we will have half a million people who've never had health insurance who will be receiving health care by the end of June.

Healthier people will mean lower costs for the state.

Hays' charge that a "third-party company hired to weed out those who do not live in our state and fail to meet income thresholds has been fired" is just not true. Maximus, the company hired to help Medicaid root out waste, fraud and abuse, is still very much on the job.

Using electronic data matching, a call center, mail room and expert computer software, the company helps the state in its annual Medicaid redetermination process, ensuring the program's integrity.

In other matters too, Gov. Quinn has chosen the difficult path of navigating the state out of this fiscally mad tea party.

Under the governor's budget to maintain the current income tax rates while providing a historic increase in property tax relief, extreme K-12 educational cuts including teacher layoffs and increased class size will be avoided.State trooper layoffs will be avoided. Local property tax increases will be avoided. Cutting community care services for 21,000 frail elderly citizens and mental health services for 140,000 citizens will be avoided. Slashing child care aid to 23,000 families for 41,000 children's care and leaving parents unable to work will be avoided.

Rather than pulling a Queen of Hearts and shouting "Off with their heads!", this responsible proposal will protect working families and help secure the state's finances.

It will provide tax relief for homeowners and working families.It will continue to pay down the backlog of bills. It will increase MAP scholarships for college students in need by $50 million. It will put $100 million in the Birth to Five Initiative in 2015 alone. It will provide workforce training incentives for businesses to create new jobs and ensure a skilled work force.

These are unprecedented investments in Illinois' future.

And finally, it's worth noting that false claims that there is an "outmigration of citizens and business in Illinois" ignore the reality that our state was ranked No. 3 in the country for corporate expansions and locations by Site Selection Magazine, with 9,000 more businesses registered here since 2011. Venture capital funding for tech startups alone in Illinois shot up 169 percent last year to more than $1 billion. Ernst and Young LLP noted that the state has recently become a biotech leader with more than 3,500 biotech companies, with an economic output of $98.6 billion. There are more people working in Illinois today than there were five years ago and unemployment has dropped to its lowest point in five years.

Yes, we have a long way to go but there's just no denying the progress that's been made.

That's why, instead of listening to the naysayers' misinformation campaign, Illinois residents should take a lesson from Alice: examine the evidence and call out those who mislead and tell you the state isn't in comeback mode.

Because in reality, Illinois is finally on the path to a secure financial future.

Julie Hamos is the director of the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services.