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February 13, 2013

Ill. Senate OKs doctors' license fees increase

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SPRINGFIELD (AP) — The Illinois Senate approved a measure Thursday to raise physicians' licensing fees to $700 to help the state rehire workers who license and investigate doctors.

The Senate voted 38-19 on the bill in an attempt to retire a deficit in the medical unit of the Department of Financial and Professional Regulation by temporarily raising a three-year doctor's license to $700. The unit's budget woes forced more than half of the department's medical watchdog staff to be laid off last month.

Illinois officials and doctors have been at odds for months over how to adequately and fairly fund the unit. While both sides acknowledge that physicians' license fees should increase, they cannot agree on how much. They also disagree on whether the department should take a short-term loan to rehire the 18 staffers that were let go Jan. 15.

The Senate proposal, sponsored by Senate President John Cullerton, now moves to the House for consideration. Separate legislation awaiting House action mimics the Senate measure in borrowing $6.6 million from a tax fund for rehiring staff. But the House version, sponsored by Speaker Michael Madigan, permanently raises the fee to $750.

However, Madigan, a Chicago Democrat, also took over sponsorship of Cullerton's bill after it arrived in the House on Thursday evening, an indication it has become the priority for addressing the problem.

Under the Senate measure, the three-year license — raised from $300 to $700 — is temporary. Payments would fall to $500 in July 2018 because Cullerton, another Chicago Democrat, believes the rate should only go up long enough to restore financial stability.

The increases under both proposals would allow the department to repay its loan.

The department supports both measures. But the Illinois State Medical Society has spoken against the borrowing provisions of both measures. The group's vice president, Jim Tierney, told a Senate committee Wednesday that the department should not borrow any money and that the state should instead pay the medical unit for money that previous administrations have taken out of its fund for other purposes.

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