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Thursday, Aug. 30, 2007 03:11 pm

Robbing Peter to pay Paul?

Governor’s allies are also critical of new healthcare proposal

Untitled Document When Gov. Rod Blagojevich makes his case for expanding healthcare coverage to the bipartisan Joint Committee on Administrative Rules, it’ll be with a much quieter chorus of supporters behind him than when he first began his journey back in March.      Although the head of the Campaign for Better Health Care — the statewide coalition of health advocates and providers that championed Blagojevich’s original Illinois Covered proposal — continues to enthusiastically back the governor’s goals, several members of the 300-member organization have quieted their support in recent weeks.      “We wouldn’t be in this position if members of the General Assembly didn’t listen to the majority of Illinois citizens who said the No. 1 issue that they want to get resolved in Springfield was health-care reform,” says Jim Duffett, the campaign’s executive director.      “If these guys want to sit on their blankety-blank hands showing inaction, then the voters will take action next November.”
     In May, the Illinois House unanimously rejected the governor’s method of paying for Illinois Covered, a $6 billion-generating gross-receipts tax. Then, after months of budget negotiations, the legislature earlier this month passed a spending plan from which Blagojevich immediately carved $463 million worth of “unnecessary spending” before signing it.      By loosening the eligibility requirements of the state’s existing FamilyCare program — which is subject to the approval of the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules — state health benefits could be extended to 717,000 people.      This includes uninsured parents who earn less than 400 percent of the federal poverty level, or $82,600 for a family of four, according to information provided by the governor’s budget office.      Single people who earn less than $10,210 annually or a couple making less than $13,690 annually would qualify, as would young adults between the ages of 19 and 21, who are not eligible for All Kids. To accomplish this, Blagojevich plans to instruct Department of Insurance director Michael T. McRaith, who also chairs the board of the state’s Comprehensive Health Insurance Program, “to develop a bridge for children with preexisting conditions who become too old for All Kids and have no access to insurance.”
     Under the modified proposal, families that earn less that $61,950 per year could receive a $1,000 yearly subsidy to help pay for health premiums, and a quarter-million uninsured women could get mammograms, breast and pelvic exams, and Pap tests.      How Blagojevich will now cover more people than the previous Illinois Covered plan did, using a fraction of the money that the business tax would have raised, remains unclear.      The governor’s office has indicated that taking cost-containment measures could help fund health care. The Senate recently approved a pilot program requiring some Medicaid recipients to enroll in a managed-care plan, which up until now has been optional.      Critics, some of whom have been vocal boosters of Blagojevich’s health initiatives, say that the governor’s cuts to member initiatives for local charities and community services will ultimately hurt the poor — the very people his health-care plan seeks to help.      Danny Chun, a spokesman for the Illinois Hospital Association, which rallied for Illinois Covered early on, says that his organization is “very disappointed and very concerned” about Blagojevich’s action, which reduced Medicaid payments to hospitals by $40 million.      The budget actually negatively affects the Medicaid payment cycle because, Chun says, even though there’s an increase of $118 million the state’s current liability to providers is around $200 million.
     “This kind of robbing Peter to pay Paul really isn’t acceptable at all,” says the Rev. Jennifer Kottler, deputy director of CBHC member Protestants for the Common Good.      “We are firmly behind the idea that everyone in Illinois and the U.S. should have access to quality affordable health care — it’s the right thing to do — but you can’t do that at the expense of other things,” Kottler says.      Illinois Academy of Family Physicians executive vice president Vince Keenan says that members of his group are waiting to see how Blagojevich’s plan will work in practice.     “There is a real sense of exhaustion out there,” he says. “People are wondering, ‘When will this end, and how will this all work out?’ ”

Contact R.L. Nave at rnave@illinoistimes.com.
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