* In normal times under a more normal governor, few would care too much about a $24 million debt. It’s a rounding error on a rounding error and money could likely be found to pay the bill, or at least pay down the bill enough to keep moving forward. It’s for childrens’ vaccines, after all. But those weren’t normal times and that wasn’t a normal governor…
The Illinois Department of Public Health owes the federal government an estimated $24 million for debt that piled up from a complicated state program to vaccinate poor kids, WBEZ has learned.
The revelation adds another layer to Illinois’ byzantine effort to get vaccines for roughly 130,000 low-income children. The state had been using free vaccines from the federal government for kids in the Children’s Health Insurance Program, known as CHIP.
But then the feds called for states including Illinois to pay for those doses. So former Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner stopped the financial bleeding with a major policy shift that led some doctors to stop vaccinating low-income children. Dozens of physicians have told Illinois public health officials this “could lead to a public health crisis with disastrous consequences” in light of the nationwide measles outbreak.
Now, the new administration under Democratic Gov. JB Pritzker is hustling to potentially unwind his predecessor’s efforts while negotiating with the feds on how to pay down the state’s big debt. […]
Illinois doctors say they thought they were allowed to use the free vaccine for patients on CHIP. In fact, Illinois was supposed to reimburse the CDC for those shots. To complicate matters, the state didn’t have a good system to track when doctors used the free vaccine for kids on CHIP.
So the debt swelled, reaching an estimated $24 million.
Concerned about this climbing IOU, Rauner’s administration hit the brakes in 2016. The state public health department stopped providing free vaccines to doctors for CHIP patients. The providers would have to pay out of their own pockets to buy vaccines instead from manufacturers, then wait for private insurers that contract with the Illinois Medicaid program to reimburse them.