Sen. Cultra: Drug test Medicaid recipients

DeWayne Bartels

State Sen. Shane Cultra, R-53rd District, said Tuesday he plans to introduce a bill requiring drug-testing for Medicaid recipients in Illinois.

Cultra, who serves on the Senate’s Public Health Committee, said during a conference call with reporters he believes such a mandate would save the state money.

“It’s about reforming a system that’s broken,” Cultra said.

He said the state is already shifting $2 billion in unpaid Medicaid bills to next year because there are insufficient funds to pay them.

Medicaid is the health insurance safety net for welfare recipients.

“If you ID people with a drug habit you can funnel them into a program for treatment,” he said. “It will also help weed the system of those who don’t deserve it.”

Cultra said he thinks the idea would save the state money. But, he had no idea how much. He also does not know how much testing would cost, or how many Medicaid recipients there are in the state.

What, he said, he did know is that the Medicaid system is growing 8 percent annually.

Asked if this would amount to an unfunded mandate for hospitals — who have to provide care regardless of a patient’s ability to pay — he said, “Yes.”

Those dropped from Medicaid could simply get care at a hospital.

“That is (hospital administrator’s) opinion,” Cultra said. “That is a concern.”

The system, as Cultra envisions it, would require testing of anyone getting Medicaid or applying for it and then periodic random testing.

“There will be a cost, but I believe it will be offset by savings,” he said.

Asked who would be tested, Cultra said everyone receiving Medicaid.

When it was pointed out by a reporter than many grandparents in Illinois, who do not receive Medicaid, but are raising grandchildren who do would be impacted, Cultra said that could be a concern. That would mean the state would be testing infants and toddlers.

“That’s a valid point,” Cultra said. “This is a starting point. There would have to be discussion on that.”

Cultra added that he does not expect the bill to make it through the Democrat controlled Illinois House of Representatives.

Ed Yohnka, spokesman for the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois, said the ACLU opposes these kinds of measures.

“This has been attempted around the country. This kind of intrusive search by government is unconstitutional,” Yohnka said.

He said Florida recently tried to enact a similar measure and were prevented in the courts from implementing it.

“These types of measures are built on the faulty premise that the poor use illegal drugs at a higher percentage than their wealthier counterparts,” Yohnka said. “We could find just as many people using drugs if we tested lawmakers in order for them to get their salary.”