Committee blocks Blagojevich’s proposed emergency health care expansion plan

By Deanna Bellandi

CHICAGO – A piecemeal expansion of government-subsidized health care that Gov. Rod Blagojevich is doing without legislative approval hit a snag Tuesday when a panel of lawmakers blocked his latest effort.

A bipartisan legislative committee rebuffed the administration’s emergency expansion of a program that gives health coverage to parents and caretakers of children, doubting an emergency need. Lawmakers also questioned how the state would pay to expand the program, expected to cost $43 million for the fiscal year that ends June 30.

Democratic Rep. Lou Lang accused the Blagojevich administration of again trying to sidestep lawmakers, who refused to pay for the governor’s agenda on health care, education and debt reduction with a business tax increase that would have been the largest in state history.

“The whole purpose of this is to use the president’s veto of the children’s health care plan in a way that would enable him to try to broaden health care in Illinois, which is a noble goal, but broaden health care in a way that end runs the General Assembly and we’re just not interested in that,” said Lang, of Skokie.

Congress and the Bush administration are divided over federal spending on the program that helps working-class families get insurance.

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    Blagojevich walked out of an unrelated news conference Tuesday without commenting on the 9-2 vote by the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules that included support from two Republicans. His spokeswoman, Abby Ottenhoff, said they appreciated the panel’s input. Another administration official said they would pursue expanding the program through routine, rather than emergency, state rule making procedures.

    In its emergency measure filed last week, the state sought to preserve coverage for 15,000 to 20,000 parents and caretakers and expand coverage to about 147,000 more through the state’s Family Care program because of the “horrible emergency situation regarding health care in this country,” said Tamara Tanzillo Hoffman, chief of staff at the Illinois Department of Health care and Family Services.

    “How do you justify going from trying to protect the … 15 to 20,000 individuals at risk to an expansion tenfold?” Democratic state Rep. John Fritchey of Chicago said.