SPRINGFIELD — Gov. Bruce Rauner held a Facebook Live session Wednesday with a nurse practitioner from Springfield’s Memorial Medical Center in honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
While most of the prescreened questions focused on health-related topics, one ventured into political territory.
Rauner fielded a question about the impact the state’s budget impasse has had on breast cancer screening programs for uninsured women.
Illinois’ breast and cervical cancer screening program, which received no state funding last year, was given $5 million in a stopgap spending deal that the Republican governor and the Democratic-controlled General Assembly approved this summer. The program, which mainly provides free cancer screenings for uninsured women ages 35 to 64, received $13.8 million in state funding in fiscal year 2015, the last year in which Illinois had a complete budget.
The stopgap spending plan expires after Dec. 31, putting future funding for the screenings in question.
“It’s an important program, one that I very strongly support,” Rauner told his Facebook audience. “That has been impacted by the lack of a balanced budget.”
The governor also noted that private insurance plans and Medicaid are required to cover breast cancer screenings at no charge under the federal Affordable Care Act, President Barack Obama’s signature health care law.
The expansion of Medicaid in Illinois made possible by the federal law has also helped significantly reduce the state’s uninsured population, but an estimated 8 percent of women ages 19 to 64 remained without coverage last year, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.
Rauner said the impasse’s impact on breast cancer screenings is one symptom of the state’s overall budget woes.
“We have not been funding our health and human services properly in Illinois for many years,” he said.
The solution is a comprehensive, balanced state budget, Rauner said.
“To do that, we need reforms to grow our economy because we can’t have government spending … growing way faster than the pace of growth for our economy,” he said. “It’s unsustainable.”
But Democrats and other critics say the state’s inability to pass a full budget since Rauner took office is the result of his insistence on reforms such as term limits for elected officials and changes to workers’ compensation laws, which they contend are unrelated to the budget.
The Metropolitan Chicago Breast Cancer Task Force also took to Facebook on Wednesday with a video response to the governor’s event.
“While it’s important for us to … balance the budget, it’s important for us to do reform, all of these things, a balanced budget should not come at the cost of a woman’s life,” said Teena Francois-Blue, associate director of community initiatives and research for the task force.
However, the lack of state funding for breast and cervical cancer screenings hasn’t resulted in service reductions everywhere in the state.
Charli Kahler of the Champaign-Urbana Public Health District, which serves as the lead agency for the program in six central Illinois counties, including McLean, said there haven’t been any reductions in that area.
The agency relied on federal funding to continue operating the program at full strength during the impasse, Kahler said.
“We have plenty of spots for clients,” she said.