Illinois Lawmaker Questions State Medicaid Program to Educate Parents of Premature Infants Online
A "key" Illinois lawmaker called yesterday for state hearings on and the suspension of a new Medicaid program "under which a Massachusetts company is paid to monitor sick children and educate their parents via the Internet even though three-quarters of the families don't own a computer," the Chicago Tribune reports. "Every day, hospitals and human service providers are choking on debt and struggling to make payroll," state Rep. Jeff Schoenberg (D), chair of a House appropriations committee, said, adding, "And at the same time, this creative scam siphons off Medicaid dollars that could be used to pay for more pressing human needs." Dennis Culloton, Gov. George Ryan's (R) press secretary, said he did not anticipate that the program would be suspended. The Tribune first reported Sunday on the program, called Baby CareLink, which provides low-income parents of premature babies with information on the children's conditions and offers advice on caring for them outside the hospital. The state Department of Public Aid allocated $400,000 for the program, which is now operating at Cook County Hospital and Mt. Sinai Medical Center, two Chicago hospitals with the state's highest number of births to Medicaid beneficiaries.
The Tribune reports it has obtained an internal business plan for Clinician Support Technology of Massachusetts, which operates Baby CareLink and stands to make up to $12 million a year if its "no-bid pilot program" is expanded across Illinois. According to the business plan, the company receives $2,000 for each family signed up in the program, while its direct costs are $500 -- a 300% profit margin. But Dennis Farrell, executive vice president of Clinician Support Technology, said that the margin does not account for the company's payroll or research and development costs. The Tribune also reports that Farrell said that he "enlisted the help" of Robert Kjellander, an Illinois Republican "insider and the state's representative on the national GOP committee," who asked Public Aid officials to consider Baby CareLink. Farrell said that the program reduces overall costs by helping parents avoid lengthy hospital stays for premature children. But critics say the program is wasteful even for parents who have Internet access, because "much of the Web-based information is easily and less expensively obtained through other sources, such as books and hospital pamphlets" (Long/Berens, Chicago Tribune, 3/26).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.