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Thursday, Feb. 3, 2011 11:42 am

Illinois health reform continues

GOP threats of repeal haven’t swayed state

Illinois is moving ahead with health care reform, despite a Republican-led movement in Congress to repeal the federal law.

The state continues to implement provisions of the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, including a new high-risk insurance pool and consumer protection against unreasonable rate increases. Every Republican and three Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives voted to repeal the act on Jan. 19, but that hasn’t stopped state officials from implementing reforms according to the federal law’s timeline.

“While we follow the national rhetoric relating to the Affordable Care Act, this does not delay or dampen [the Illinois Department of Insurance’s] commitment to implement the ACA,” says Anjali Julka, spokeswoman for DOI. “Our interaction with employers, families and individuals reminds us that the Illinois health insurance market has been dysfunctional for years and needs reform with or without the ACA.”

At the beginning of January, DOI started the Illinois Pre-Existing Condition Insurance Plan, allowing Illinois residents with pre-existing medical conditions to buy health insurance from the federal government through the state. This federally-mandated “high-risk pool” will be phased out in 2014, when health insurance providers will no longer be allowed to refuse coverage for pre-existing conditions. Urbana-based insurer Health Alliance Medical Plans oversees the program.

Additionally, DOI now reviews all health insurance rate increases over 10 percent to determine whether they are justified. DOI also must regulate medical loss ratios – the proportion of premium dollars health insurance companies must spend on paying for medical care rather than executive salaries, advertising and other expenses.

Despite the possibility that the federal law could be repealed, the state is merely doing what is required under federal law, says Mike Claffey, spokesman for the Illinois Health Care Reform Implementation Council.

“The ACA is the law of the land and it requires a great deal of work on the part of the states in order to implement its major provisions by 2014,” Claffey says. “The council is focused on the charge it received from the Governor, which is to make sure state agencies work together, along with stakeholders, in an open process so that the law is implemented efficiently and controls health care costs while delivering quality health care and improved health outcomes for all Illinoisans.”

A January 28 report by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services lays out the rationale behind the reforms: health insurance premiums more than doubled from 1999 to 2009, while wages and the cost of living grew at a much slower rate, the report says.

“In 2014, annual premiums are projected to fall compared to what they would have been without the Affordable Care Act,” the report states. “Without health reform, American consumers and businesses would face higher premiums, fewer insurance choices, and rapidly rising health care costs.”

A spokesman for U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada said Reid would not call the repeal legislation, House Resolution 2, for a vote, though Republicans could force a vote through procedural maneuvering.

“Republicans are wasting time fighting old battles when we should be focused on creating jobs,” Reid said through a spokesman. “We hope they will come to their senses and work with us on common-sense measures to strengthen the middle class.”

Contact Patrick Yeagle at pyeagle@illinoistimes.com.

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