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Wednesday, Sept. 26, 2007 03:39 am

The CHIPs are down

Blagojevich joins other governors critical of new federal healthcare rules

Untitled Document As he moves ahead with his plans to cover more of Illinois’ medically uninsured, Gov. Rod Blagojevich also is weighing in on the national healthcare debate. Blagojevich, along with a bipartisan group of 30 governors, last week sent a letter to U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Michael Leavitt asking for the repeal of proposed rule changes that governors say will impede their ability to expand healthcare programs in their states. “Governors are leading the way to create meaningful and sustainable coverage options for their uninsured populations. The [Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services’] decision to limit coverage options for states and unilaterally alter existing state plans is contrary to our shared responsibility of working cooperatively to provide health coverage for uninsured children,” the letter states. Created in 1997, the State Children’s Health Insurance Program, or SCHIP, is a federal program run by states and funded jointly by state and federal governments for children whose families cannot afford health insurance but earn too much to receive Medicaid. In Illinois, SCHIP is called KidCare, which falls under the purview of All Kids, a wider initiative that Blagojevich launched in 2006. The new federal rule would have no effect on access to care in Illinois. Although the state uses SCHIP dollars for those who are below 200 percent of the federal poverty level, an Illinois family of five that makes $193,056 a year could still qualify for state assistance through All Kids. Even though Illinois will not be immediately affected, Blagojevich’s administration opposes the White House initiative because the new rule would chip away at states’ flexibility to decide how best to use SCHIP funds and pushes the burden of insuring on states, says Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services spokeswoman Teresa Kurtenbach. “That is in direct conflict with the original purpose of the SCHIP program,” Kurtenbach says.
Blagojevich also wrote President George W. Bush in August urging that he reauthorize SCHIP, which expires at the end of September. Late last week, Congress reached a compromise that would expand SCHIP coverage to 6.6 million more children, costing an additional $35 billion. Congress is expected to send that bill to the president this week. Bush promised to veto the legislation, calling the proposal an “incremental step toward the Democrats’ goal of a government-run health care system” that would extend taxpayer-funded healthcare to families making $83,000 per year. He has proposed a more conservative expansion of $5 billion over five years — a 20 percent increase over the current funding level. However, there is believed to be enough support in the U.S. Senate, which voted 68-31 in support of the bill, to overturn Bush’s veto. Chances of an override in the House, where SCHIP’s reauthorization passed just narrowly with a 225-204 vote, appear doubtful. Blagojevich, a Democrat, is also seeking new rules to open up state healthcare insurance to more than 700,000 adults in Illinois. However, the governor has not submitted any formal plan to the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules, the legislative body that reviews new state rules.
Contact R.L. Nave at rnave@illinoistimes.com.
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