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Employee health fund tapped for Illinois official's salary

Employee health fund tapped for Illinois official's salary

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) — Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner's new deputy governor is scheduled to receive half of her pay out of an employee health care account that is more than $4 billion behind on its bills due to the state's budget crisis, according to documents obtained by The Associated Press.

The other half of Republican Leslie Munger's $138,000 salary is slated to be taken from money used to pay Medicaid providers and prescription drug costs, according to letters from Rauner's fiscal operations director in late February to the comptroller's payroll department.

Munger, Rauner's hand-picked choice to fill a vacancy in the comptroller's office in 2015, landed the position with her political ally after losing a special election. Premiums from state employees feed the group health insurance account. The other fund, administered by the Department of Healthcare and Family Services, is money collected from overpayments due to fraud or error. It's used to pay costs under the federal-state Medicaid program.

Munger did not return a message left by the AP at her office. Catherine Kelly, spokeswoman for Rauner, noted that Munger has not yet received a paycheck in her new job.

"When she is paid, it will not impact state employee health insurance payments or service providers," Kelly said but declined to elaborate.

Rauner, a conservative businessman who ran on a platform of government transparency, has a history of paying employees who work for him from accounts not affiliated with the governor's office — a practice known as "off-shoring." An analysis the AP conducted in August 2015 found that half of the $8 million payroll for 80 people answering to the governor was paid by agencies other than the chief executive's office.

Illinois has been slogging along without a budget since mid-2015, the nation's longest state budget drought since at least World War II.

More than a third of the state's $12.3 billion in past-due bills involve payments to medical providers for employee health care. The shortage has forced doctors and hospitals to seek lines of credit or demand payment for service upfront. A dentists' group prompted pending legislation to allow dentists to renege on state contracts for lack of payment.

Rep. Greg Harris, a House appropriations committee chairman, called the arrangement improper.

"This sounds like a really inappropriate shell game of a political pay-roller's salary coming from funds for fraud and abuse — sort of ironic — and the group health fund," said Harris, a Chicago Democrat.

In February, Rauner announced he hired Munger as deputy governor to deal with nonprofit agencies struggling under the strain of dried-up state financial support. The office said her work would be separate from that of another deputy governor, Trey Childress, who makes $198,000 and also has served as chief operating officer.

Munger will make slightly more working for the governor than the $135,700 salary allotted to the state comptroller. But she has not been paid for her last six months as comptroller, the state's check-writer who must prioritize bills to be paid. That's because last spring, she put her payroll and that of other constitutional officers and legislators at the back of the line with all bills, a move that prompted a lawsuit by lawmakers in December.

Rauner chose the 60-year-old Munger in 2015 to take the place of Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka, who won re-election in 2014 but died a month later. Rather than grant Munger an uncontested four-year term, the Democratic-controlled General Assembly set up a special election in 2016, which Munger lost to Democrat Susana Mendoza.

Sen. Andy Manar, a Bunker Hill Democrat who is considering a run against Rauner, said he's barraged by doctors, rural hospitals and ambulance services pleading for payment. He questioned burdening such a stressed account for "a patronage hire."

"The former comptroller ought to know better," Manar said. "She, of all people, ought to understand what additional liability on the group health insurance program means to families who pay their premiums every month."

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Contact Political Writer John O'Connor at https://twitter.com/apoconnor. His work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/john-oconnor.


Updated : 2021-04-18 17:41 GMT+08:00