Editorial: Illinois taxpayers deserve to know how their money’s spent


Don’t ask too many questions, Illinois taxpayers. It’s only your money. 

Gov. Bruce Rauner’s administration went out of its way to provide cover for several firms contracted to manage a briskly enacted privatization of Illinois’ massive Medicaid program.

Late last month, Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services redacted reimbursement rates for insurers NextLevel Health, IlliniCare, Harmony and Meridian when Crain’s Chicago Business sought the information. The four firms claimed that disclosing the amount of public cash pouring in to run Illinois’ $15 billion-a-year program would result in undue harm in the open market. 

And, like a good puppy, Health and Family Services complied. 

Even more curious, the agency released the rates for three other insurers — Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Illinois, CountyCare and Molina — that didn’t ask the people of Illinois to fund something without asking questions, Crain’s reported.

Recently, NextLevel Health realized the public relations nightmare caused by its desire to accept public funds without any semblance of accountability and released how much Illinois is paying for each Medicaid recipient it covers.

There’s a common refrain from the private sector looking to do business with government. Transparency is damaging to the bottom line, they argue. Open government injects too many pesky opinions into otherwise straight forward deals, they complain.

Yet, as any firm is keenly aware, these are basic requirements to working with government. Crying about disclosure, either before or after a deal is done, is downright disingenuous. 

Government is not private business. It does not tout the efficiency of a like-minded corporate board. Representative government is a large, clumsy exercise in balancing stakeholders’ interests. 

But none of the four that sought non-disclosure are the real culprit here. It’s disconcerting that large firms would demand to hide information from Illinois taxpayers while feeding from the public trough. 

It was Rauner’s administration that sided with big business over basic accountability to the public.

More than 3.1 million Illinoisans are enrolled in Medicaid. On Jan. 1, they were thrust into a hurriedly concocted scheme that is bound to result in denied services and reduced care. Just this past week, The Des Moines Register detailed Iowa’s shameful privatization effort. Payments are denied or withheld. Initial appeals are sent to the private firms, not a state oversight agency. Real people are struggling to access the health care system.

This, too, is the likely fate for thousands in Illinois. Business is about turning a profit. And, in the name of rooting out waste and fraud, a lot of Illinoisans in need will go without necessary health care. Already, advocates for children with special needs are crying foul. There’s is a chorus that’s bound to grow. 

Add to that a coordinated effort to cloak the program’s details in secrecy and it’s impossible to ignore just how poorly the Illinois Medicaid roll-out has gone so far. 

Roads, military and prisons — there are certain arenas in which government and government alone should operate. They’re areas of society too easily corrupted by profit. Providing health care for society’s poorest is among them.

But, to save a buck, Illinois has joined a growing number of states willing to shirk government’s duty.

And, in Illinois’ case, the desire for corporate privacy trumped the taxpayer, providing even less reason to have any confidence in the overhaul whatsoever. 

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