U.S. District Judge Joan Lefkow is expected to issue a ruling Tuesday on whether the health care bills for Medicaid patients move to the head of the line for payment as the Illinois budget impasse continues.
Many of the state's bills are paid through various consent decrees, but Illinois’ budget backlog has grown to reach more than $14.3 billion.
In Illinois, doctors who serve Medicaid patients are often reimbursed through Managed Care Organizations, or MCOs. But those MCOs are not legally required to pay health care professionals if they are not receiving payments from the state.
Therein lies the problem – if doctors and other health care professionals are not being reimbursed, there’s a growing concern that they will stop seeing Medicaid patients.
More than two dozen health care providers and insurance companies have asked for a federal ruling.
"All we're asking for today is that the consent decree takes precedent over pension obligations," attorney Thomas Yates, executive director of the Legal Council for Health Justice said.
David Chizewer, one of the other attorneys unable to negotiate a settlement with the state, asked "who has to suffer?"
It's estimated that 85 percent of the Medicaid bills are unfounded since July 2015 when the budget stalemate began.
Lawyers representing the Illinois Attorney General's office claim that the state is paying its bills, but "just not as prompt as the plaintiffs would like."
During Tuesday’s hearing, Judge Lefkow said Illinois has "an insolvency situation," comparing the state's finances with bankruptcy – but she was reluctant to tell State Comptroller Susana Mendoza which bills to prioritize.
Mendoza has suggested that if the court rules in favor of the MCOs, that would be the tipping point that would prevent her from paying state lawmakers and other bills.