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Thursday, July 28, 2011 09:58 pm

Illinois starts work on health care reform

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Looking forward to seeing her son one evening, Maurine Magliocco of Springfield got a call saying he had fallen ill and wasn’t going to come. He was debating going to the emergency room. Even though Peter Magliocco, a 28-year-old, had his own insurance, he didn’t think he could afford the trip.

As a concerned mother, Magliocco says she insisted that he go anyway, even if it meant she would cover the cost of the emergency room tests and procedures out-of-pocket.

“It made me realize … we could end up using all of our retirement savings taking care of our kids.”

Magliocco’s dilemma is common, yet there are alternatives on the way under the federal government’s health care insurance reforms. Josephine Underwood is Health Care Justice Campaign downstate organizing coordinator at Illinois Campaign for Better Healthcare (CBHC), the state’s largest grassroots health care coalition. She says individuals like Magliocco will be able to pick from insurance options with more opportunities for preventive care, which can offset the need for emergency care, and/or extended insurance coverage from parents who can have young adults up to age 26 stay on their plan.

Under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, (ACA) each state can create and regulate its own health reform, or it can allow the federal government to run it, according to Kate Gross, assistant director for health planning at Illinois Department of Insurance.

 “In these tough economic times, people want to make smart choices, they want to protect their family or protect their small business, but they don’t know how to do that right now because the market is very unhelpful for consumers,” Gross says.

Recently approved Illinois legislation sets up a 12-member legislative study committee to recommend a structure for the Illinois Health Benefits Exchange, which is essentially a competitive health care marketplace. The committee will look into issues like operation, structure and amount of power of the exchange, such as how independent it will be from state government, Gross says. The study committee must submit its report to the Illinois General Assembly and to the governor by Sept. 30.

In order for Illinois to receive full funding from the federal government through 2014, the exchange must be approved by law by June 2012, Gross says. Although partial funding is available, she says full funding is “absolutely critical.”  The exchange will be set up online for consumers to compare insurance coverage plans on a website similar in structure to travel websites like Expedia or Travelocity.

Underwood says the tight deadlines are cause for concern, especially if those appointed to the committee take advice from special interest groups instead of from consumers.

“It’s not that the insurance industry shouldn’t be heard… but we really believe that it’s the consumer voice that should be at the foreground,” she says.

To encourage the consumer voice, CBHC held forums with citizens and organizations last year, compiling a list of principles that consumers want to see within the exchange. More forums will take place this summer, in an effort to educate consumers, including those who are frustrated or apathetic about health reform.

“If we were to have a concern, it’s not necessarily to mobilize or to get consumer voices heard, it’s more dealing with that sense of political exhaustion and political hopelessness,” she says.

Magliocco, vice president of the retirees chapter at University Professionals of Illinois, became a CBHC volunteer after sharing her own story. She says consumers don’t need to understand legislative policy to get involved.

“What they don’t realize is that what they need to do is just to tell their stories and the stories of the people that they know,” she says.  

Contact Hannah Douglas at hdouglas@illinoistimes.com.

For an example of another state’s health exchange that’s already implemented, visit Massachusetts’ exchange site: www.mahealthconnector.org.
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