More than 25,000 working parents in Illinois stand to lose their state-provided health coverage on July 1 -- and most of them don't know it yet.
State officials will eliminate their coverage in just three weeks as part of the $2.7 billion package of cuts and taxes the Legislature passed in May in an effort to save Illinois' Medicaid program from possible collapse.
But with the clock ticking, the state has just sent out notices to the Medicaid families who will be affected once Gov. Pat Quinn signs the bill, as he has promised to do.
Among the few who do know is Jennifer Bowman, a 24-year-old single mother from Sterling. She makes less than $2,000 a month working as a secretary and says she can't afford to see a doctor if she loses her state Family Care coverage. She found out only because she is employed by the Whiteside County Health Department.
"I support my son all by myself. I have health issues," Bowman said. "Once I lose my medical card at the beginning of July, going to the doctor isn't an option for me anymore."
The state agency responsible for Medicaid sent roughly 26,000 notices to parents losing coverage on Friday, an agency spokesman told The Associated Press. Other letters to seniors losing help with prescription drug costs are being mailed in batches this week, Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services spokesman Mike Claffey told the AP on Monday.
"We are acting to save the Medicaid program from the brink of collapse," said Quinn spokeswoman Brooke Anderson.
"We have been facing an unprecedented crisis in Illinois and must move quickly to implement the changes that will rescue the program and preserve services for those who need it most."
Illinois has little experience informing Medicaid patients they're losing coverage. The program has had few eligibility limits imposed, and mostly the program has grown to cover more residents over the years.
Last year, a new income limit was placed on state coverage for children covered by a program called All Kids. But, in that case, the Legislature gave a year before the 4,000 children already enrolled lost their coverage. Their families got many months' advance notice.
Now, advocates are bracing for phone calls from Medicaid recipients who may have only a week or two to make backup plans. Clinics are rescheduling appointments for patients in the middle of treatment.
With Quinn's signature, some Medicaid programs will die at the beginning of the state's fiscal year, which is July 1.
While the poorest Illinois residents will continue to receive benefits, parents making more than 133 percent of the federal poverty guidelines -- about $20,000 a year for a two-person household -- will see their coverage under Family Care suddenly halt.
"We're worried that when people receive the notices we'll get a flood of phone calls from people in a panic," said Kathy Chan, director of policy for the Illinois Maternal and Child Health Coalition. "This is going to be a shock to a lot of recipients. ... We're also concerned with what the notices will say. Will they get them in time? Will they understand what the notices are telling them?"
Seniors enrolled in Illinois Cares Rx also will get notices about the July 1 termination of that program, which provides financial help with prescription drug costs to about 180,000 low-income older adults and people with disabilities.
"It's ridiculous," David Vinkler of AARP said of the late notice, adding that some senior centers are still signing people up for Illinois Cares Rx because, officially, the program still exists. AARP is urging the governor to save the program using a veto.