STERLING – Are supporters of state Sen. Mike Jacobs accusing his Republican opponent of taking the same position as the senator’s?
The Illinois Democratic Party is sending mailers saying that Republican Senate candidate Bill Albracht wants to make poor seniors pay for their health care.
The party is referring to Albracht’s calls for all Medicaid recipients to make co-pays.
Jacobs, D-East Moline, stands by the mailers. Yet, he voted in the spring for a Medicaid reform bill that included increased co-pays for recipients, including seniors. Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn signed it.
Over the past couple of weeks, the state Democratic Party has sent at least three glossy mailers to area voters about Albracht, two of which focus on the Republican’s position on Medicaid co-pays.
Two of them include a photo of a glum-looking elderly woman sitting in front of five prescription bottles and nine tablet strips.
One mailer contends that Albracht favors tax cuts for millionaires yet wants co-pays for poor seniors. To make their point, Democrats featured a large photo of a smiling, tuxedo-wearing man drinking fine liquor and holding a cigar – presumably a depiction of an Albracht supporter.
Jacobs and Albracht are running in the 36th District, which was redrawn last year to include most of Whiteside County.
Under the Jacobs-supported Medicaid reforms, the state now requires Medicaid recipients to make $2 co-pays for generic drugs, with an exception for some life-threatening diseases. There was no co-pay previously.
The reforms also allow the state Department of Healthcare and Family Services, which operates Medicaid, to raise the co-payment for other services to the federal maximum, which the agency did. Recipients now pay $3.65 for medical visits and brand-name drugs.
Those co-pays apply to seniors, with the exception of those in nursing homes and state facilities. Children from families who are below 133 percent of the poverty line also are exempted, according to regulations of the Department of Healthcare and Family Services. Most children covered by Medicaid fall into that group, the agency says.
Jacobs: Opponent has ‘extremist agenda’
Asked to square his vote with the mailers, Jacobs said lawmakers had wanted to reduce the impact of Medicaid on the state budget by $2.7 billion. He noted it included a tax increase of $1 a pack on cigarettes. The law also eliminated Illinois Cares Rx, a program that had provided prescription drug assistance to seniors.
“We did tough and responsible cuts,” Jacobs said. “We preserved quality care.”
In an earlier interview, Jacobs wouldn’t acknowledge he had voted for increases in co-pays. But he did later. He noted that poor children were exempted.
Jacobs said he wouldn’t want the poorest people to have a co-pay. Albracht, he said, wants all Medicaid recipients to have co-pays.
“That’s the difference between us,” the senator said. “He [Albracht] represents an extremist agenda. He hurts working families, and there are a lot of those in Sterling and Rock Falls.”
Jacobs said most Medicaid recipients are children and seniors.
“When you say to people who are in wheelchairs that you want them to pay co-pays on everything they do, that’s crazy,” Jacobs said. “They don’t have any money.”
Albracht, a Moline resident, didn’t respond to phone messages for comment this week. But in a statement, Albracht’s campaign called Jacobs’ recent criticism the “height of hypocrisy,” noting the co-pays and the end of Illinois Cares under the Medicaid reforms.
“Clearly, Jacobs is desperate to distract voters from his own record of taxing, borrowing and spending more than we can afford,” Albracht said in the statement.
Anything ‘received at no cost has no value’
On his website, Albracht said he wants all Medicaid recipients to make co-pays.
“Anything that is received at no cost has no value,” he said. “Anyone who is receiving Medicaid benefits from the state pays for nothing and receives everything.”
In fact, recipients are paying something, contrary to Albracht’s statement.
He suggests that co-pays be based on income. Now, except for children, they are not.
The amount of the co-pay, Albracht said, is not as important as the message it sends.
“In today’s health insurance world, everyone pays a co-pay,” he wrote. “It cuts down on frivolous claims and establishes a buy-in and understanding between the insured and the provider. A co-pay will reduce the overall cost of Medicaid while increasing its overall legitimacy. Being in need does not preclude being responsible.”
Steve Brown, a spokesman for the Illinois Democratic Party, said the mailers speak for themselves.
“I’m not going to re-explain something that has already been stated,” he said.