Committee prevents health care expansion

By Jonathan Jacobson

This week, a special legislative committee took one of the first steps in slowing Gov. Blagojevich’s move toward expanded health care in Illinois.

Blagojevich, under an emergency order decreed last week, sought to stretch the state-subsidized FamilyCare health insurance program to include 147,000 more parents and other caretakers.

But the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Administrative Rules, convening in Chicago, voted 9-2 to prevent that from happening. Members said the administration was trying to circumvent the Legislature through the emergency order.

“I don’t think the 12 members of this panel ought to be the body that decides for the whole state of Illinois whether or not a plan like this takes place,” Rep. Lou Lang, D-Skokie, told the Chicago Tribune after the meeting. “This ought to be done through the Legislature.”

But Richard Kaplan, a University law professor and health care expert, said he believes it is the administration’s job to work with the health care system.

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“Illinois taxpayers will pay for it one way or the other,” Kaplan said. “Do we want to pay for it directly or indirectly?”

Kaplan said he believes Illinois’ health care system is no worse off than most states or the country as a whole; people have access to health care, he said, they just sometimes don’t pay.

“In some communities, as much as 30 percent of the care is provided without any payment,” he said. “Somebody has to pay for it.”

Some representatives in the Legislature say the solution will only come if the administration consults both legislative leaders and experts to determine policy.

Democratic Rep. William Davis, chairman of the Health and Healthcare Disparities Committee, said he does not oppose Blagojevich’s plans for state-subsidized health care.

“I can certainly agree with the governor’s desire to provide a universal health care coverage,” he said. “But obviously it’s something we really need to take our time on.”

Davis said the state needs to ensure that doctors are being paid properly and on time, and that the Legislature must have the support of the medical community before expansion of health care can be feasible.

But, he said, “We have to move toward a universal-type coverage for everyone in the state.”

Christie Clinic, a local physician-owned medical practice, recently enrolled 3,500 patients on FamilyCare and All Kids, two state-subsidized health insurance organizations.

The clinic, though, refused to comment on whether an expansion in either program would benefit the community, citing a pending lawsuit with the attorney general about Medicaid.

After Blagojevich announced the emergency, about 500 people signed up for FamilyCare, which currently provides insurance for a family of four with an income of up to $38,208 a year.

Blagojevich’s office has said he wants to increase the income cap to $82,000 a year, and estimates that this will cost taxpayers $225 million.

Though the Legislature has not approved this spending, they did approve $500 million worth of cuts from the budget that Blagojevich has said he wants to redirect toward more health care coverage to Illinoisans.