A Publication of WTVP

There was a great deal of concern after Governor Blagojevich announced his health care plan last January, especially in relation to the program’s funding. Unfortunately, I believe the details of the plan were lost in the debate. I would like to set aside the funding issues for a moment and look first at the fundamentals of the proposal.

This proposal was fashioned from recommendations made by the Illinois Adequate Health Care Task Force, established by the General Assembly in 2004. The Task Force was a bipartisan, diverse committee representing many viewpoints. I served as the vice chair during the eighteen months the Task Force did its work, which included 21 public hearings across the state. The current proposal, as represented in the legislation, advanced this year and contained many of the Task Force’s recommendations.

The Task Force accomplished many things and accommodated as many points of view as possible. We entertained five different proposals, ranging from a single payer system to a private market approach highlighting Health Savings Accounts. The plan was unanimously adopted by the Task Force in January 2007 into a final, hybrid plan which took the best from each proposal. In all, the plan sought to accomplish:

      • The creation of a health care system to greatly expand access and affordability to all Illinoisans,
         thereby eliminating the 1.4 million uninsured.

      • The adoption of a public-private sector approach with government setting the parameters and
         reinsuring catastrophic risks.

The plan came to fruition in Senate Bill 5, which created two programs to achieve health care accessibility and affordability:

Illinois Covered would be offered to small businesses with fewer than 25 employees and to working individuals who are not covered by an employer-sponsored health care plan. It would be offered through health insurance companies doing business in Illinois and would provide a comprehensive minimum standard of coverage that would exclude no one from coverage because of pre-existing health conditions.

Illinois Covered represents a public-private partnership that will work. It will be good for small businesses and individuals needing affordable health care insurance and for insurance companies providing those policies. Small business would benefit by having lower, predictable premiums each year. Individuals would benefit by having affordable health insurance without regard to health status, and in some cases, help with premium costs.

The second part of Senate Bill 5 is Illinois Assist, which is designed to cover all persons below the poverty level currently not eligible for Medicaid, including individuals who are poor and have no children or dependents. Individuals under the plan would be assigned a primary care provider at a community health clinic instead of making costly emergency room visits, now used by many as their primary source of health care.

The costs for this proposal would be paid for by a three percent assessment on businesses with 10 or more full-time employees, who are not currently spending at least four percent of their payroll for employee health benefits. In other words, companies who already provide employee health care plans will not pay the three percent assessment.

To the critics who say, “We can’t afford to do this,” I say, “We can’t afford not to.”

In Illinois, we spend almost $80 billion each year in both public and private dollars on health care. It has been estimated that $4 billion could be saved each year if we created this new comprehensive health care approach.

I offer this explanation so a public debate on the details of the plan can take place. My hope is that we can re-introduce this proposal next year and develop a bipartisan coalition of legislators, business leaders, insurance executives and citizens who can work together on a plan to achieve health care coverage for all Illinois citizens. IBI