Today's ObamaCare decision was a severe blow to the constitutional limits on federal power. But there is one bright spot: the Court ruled that the federal government can't force states like Illinois to expand their Medicaid programs.
ObamaCare doubled-down on broken Medicaid programs by requiring states to expand eligibility for Medicaid. Here in Illinois, that meant adding another 1.5 million people to a program that already fails to meet the needs of the poorest among us. If states refused to go along with this, the federal government would cut their Medicaid funding to zero.
But today's ruling holds those provisions unconstitutional. As the opinion noted, Congress may not "penalize States that choose not to participate" in the massive Medicaid expansion by "taking away their existing Medicaid funding."
This is good news for Illinois. It means lawmakers can refuse to implement an expansion that would overload a broken program with another 1.5 million people and cost state taxpayers more than $10 billion by the end of the decade. Illinois' Medicaid program is already on the verge of collapse. We've seen what well-intentioned program expansions have done before. More and more doctors are posting signs in their offices that say they will not see Medicaid patients.
Our problems were so bad that in 2005, a federal judge ordered the state to study the access barriers the Medicaid program has created. The results of that study, recently published in the New England Journal of Medicine, found that children with throat cancer have only a one-in-three chance of seeing a specialist if they're enrolled in Medicaid. For those with juvenile diabetes or epilepsy, the odds of seeing a specialist are one-in-two. Worse yet, even when these children can get an appointment, they are forced to wait several months for it. For these sick kids, those months can be the difference between life and death.
Implementing ObamaCare's expansion will only make these problems worse. Instead of reforming the underlying problems in Medicaid, it simply expands the program to more people - and forces them to compete for appointments with fewer and fewer doctors willing to participate. When millions of new enrollees are dumped into the system, the poorest, who have nowhere else to turn, will suffer most.
It is a noble goal to deliver quality health care to the most vulnerable. So instead of dumping millions of new people into a broken system, we should transform the program into one that actually meets the unique needs of our poorest population. Instead of giving the poor a card that can't even get them a doctor's visit, we can give them meaningful choices and greater control over their own health.
The Supreme Court gave us the option to opt-out of the expansion. Illinois lawmakers should use that option and refuse to implement the massive expansion of Medicaid in 2014. They should also halt current plans to implement this expansion early in the Chicago area.