WASHINGTON -- House Speaker Dennis Hastert wants to use Congress' largest spending bill to delay plans to close a loophole in the Medicaid law that lets states collect billions in extra dollars.
The loophole is expected to cost about $2 billion this year alone, a fourth of which will go to the Republican speaker's home state of Illinois. The $500 million a year Illinois received in excess federal Medicaid payments represents about 10 percent of the state's health care budget.
Hastert's effort has put him at odds with a pair of top Republicans in the Senate -- Delaware Sen. William Roth, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, and Senate GOP Whip Don Nickles of Oklahoma.
Roth, saying the loophole threatens to cost the government $127 billion over the next 10 years, is trying to find a legislative vehicle in the final days of Congress that would accelerate the Clinton administration's plans to gradually close it.
The Health Care Financing Administration earlier this month released its proposal to take five years to phase out the excess payments that 20 states now are taking advantage of.
Hastert's office refused to comment directly on what the speaker planned but his spokesman John Feehery said, "We're looking at a lot of different options to restore fairness for Illinois hospitals."
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