(via Flickr/seannaber)

The Illinois House has agreed to raise tobacco taxes as part of a plan to strengthen the state Medicaid program.

The tax increase passed 60-52 Friday. It now goes to the Senate, which has backed similar increases in the past.

It more than doubles the tax on cigarettes, to $1.98 a pack. Other tobacco products would see a similar tax increase.

It also would create a special tax on hospitals that would then be matched by the federal government and returned to the state.

In all, it's supposed to raise $800 million a year for the Medicaid program.

(via Flickr/CarbonNYC)

Updated 5:25 a.m. Friday with final vote information. Reporting from Illinois Public Radio's Brian Mackey was used in this story.

Just before 7 p.m. Thursday, the Illinois Senate approved the cuts by a vote of 44-13.

African-American lawmakers continued their opposition to the cuts, saying they fall disproportionately on their constituents.

(via Flickr/teejay)

Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster says the state's Medicaid program will receive about $42,000 from a national legal settlement with Walgreen Co.

The settlement resolves complaints that Walgreen's improperly tried to get people to switch their prescriptions to its pharmacies. The company has agreed to pay civil damages totaling $7.9 million to states and the federal government.

Koster says that from early 2005 to June 2010, Walgreen Co. offered gift cards and gift checks to people who receive government health care to entice them to transfer their prescriptions.

(via Flickr/rosmary)

Illinois Public Radio's Amanda Vinicky reported for this story.

Legislators' initial plans for reducing Illinois' Medicaid expenses have been unveiled - but other controversial aspects of the savings plan have yet to be filed as legislation.

A portion of the estimated savings comes from kicking undeserving recipients off the rolls. 

Illinois would no longer just assume people remain eligible for Medicaid, a practice Senator Heather Steans, a Chicago Democrat, says has caused skepticism.

(via Flickr/JimBowen0306)

Reporting from Amanda Vinicky was used in this story.

Like its counterpart in Missouri, the Illinois General Assembly is heading into the home stretch.

Lawmakers there have a bit more time to get through their agenda - their session isn't scheduled to end until the end of May. But unlike lawmakers in Missouri, Illinois legislators have a monumental task in front of them - passing a state budget.

Most state agencies will have their budget cut by 9 percent.

(via Flickr/Senator Roy Blunt)

Missouri U.S. Senator Roy Blunt (R) briefly addressed the Missouri House today.

Blunt spent most of his nine-minute speech criticizing government growth and overregulation.  He was especially critical of the federal government’s attempts to regulate family farms.

"We don’t need people in Washington DC deciding what farm kids can do on family farms," Blunt said to applause.  "We don’t need the EPA trying to spend all this time figuring out how you can farm without dust.”

(via Wikimedia Commons)

Gov. Pat Quinn says saving the Illinois Medicaid program will require cutting services, raising cigarette taxes and cutting payments to health-care providers.

Aides to the Democratic governor told The Associated Press on Thursday that Quinn is proposing a cigarette tax increase of $1 per pack. They expect the tax to generate about $337 million, which would then be matched by the federal government.

(via Flickr/Jennifer_Boriss)

Hundreds of thousands of low-income Missourians can begin enrolling in new Medicaid insurance plans Thursday, despite a lingering lawsuit seeking to halt the process.

In a deposition obtained by The Associated Press, state Medicaid director Ian McCaslin said it would create a "nuclear scenario" for the program if a judge grants an injunction blocking the state from implementing its new Medicaid managed care contracts.

(via Flickr/IndofunkSatish)

Amanda Vinicky contributed reporting from Springfield.

Ill. lawmakers have packed agenda when they return to Springfield

State lawmakers in Illinois have about seven weeks left to untangle a host of thorny problems.

(via Flickr/jglazer75)

Illinois lawmakers say a cigarette tax increase is on the table as a bipartisan committee strains to find $2.7 billion in cuts to the Illinois Medicaid program.

Two Republicans and two Democrats are charged with finding a deal. But they're confronting fundamental differences, including disagreement on the cigarette tax.

Democratic Sen. Heather Steans says Gov. Pat Quinn's administration floated a proposal that included $1.3 billion in cuts to Medicaid program spending, a $1 per pack increase in the cigarette tax and rate cuts to health care providers.