The 'public option' works very well in Illinois... A personal story

It's still amazing to me that President Barack Obama can dump the so-called "public option" from his plans for national health insurance "reform" and still pretend that he's doing more than once again caving in to the demands of large finance, this time in the form of the media and pharmaceutical oligopolies. After all, one of the most successful iterations of the so-called "public option' has been right here in Illinois, and it was a lifesaver for me and my family a couple of years ago when I lost a job and my wife was still moving towards one that provided full benefits.

The program that saved my family was the Illinois "All Kids/ All Families" Medicaid program. After I lost my last job (as director of research at Local 73 of the Service Employees International Union, SEIU), I was eligible to go on COBRA for 18 months. Trouble with that was that for our family (two parents; two children) COBRA for that plan cost $1,300 per month. That's right: per month.

That was obviously not going to work at all. We paid COBRA for a couple of months while investigating All Kids. Within a couple of months, we found that we had been accepted for All Kids at a cost of $240 per month. The paperwork was reasonable, and All Kids provided better coverage in many ways that our previous plan. For example, when I was under All Kids, the blood pressure medication I have to take had no co-pay. Under both the SEIU plan and now under the Board of Education plan, I'm paying $20 per month on that alone.

The only problem we had when we went on "All Kids" was that our pediatrician refused to continue serving our family. She simply said, "Our practice doesn't do welfare..." Despite a heart felt appeal from my wife (both our young sons had been going to "Northwest Suburban Pediatrics" since they were born), the Dickensian refusal was rock solid.

Ironically, we found better physician service under All Kids, although we didn't know it at the time we were trying to convince Northwest Suburban Pediatrics to continue treating our little guys.

"All Kids" -- not the Massachusetts plan that's being bandied about -- should be the model Mr. Obama follows. It worked for us, and it's worked for thousands of other Illinois families, as the article below shows.

And Mr. Obama knows all about it, because All Kids has been in place here in Illinois for a long time. And during some of that time, Mr. Obama lived with his family in Illinois and served in the Illinois General Assembly. It he wants someone to testify about how successful -- and kind -- the Illinois program is, we're available.

Illinois' Public Option

By Voices for Illinois Children

Data released by the U.S. Census Bureau last week show continued improvement in health insurance coverage for Illinois children, due largely to enrollment in the state's "All Kids" health insurance program, according to an analysis of the data by Voices for Illinois Children.

The option of public health insurance for children has become even more critical during a deep recession, as unemployment increases and state revenues decline.

In 2007-2008, the state's uninsured rate for children was 6.5 percent, compared with 8.1 percent in 2006-2007. The national average in 2007-2008 was 10.5 percent. In 2004-2005, the proportion of uninsured children in Illinois was 10.4 percent - about the same as the U.S. as a whole.

The latest data also show the continued long-term erosion of employment-based health insurance. In 2007-2008, 65 percent of Illinois children had employer-sponsored coverage, down from 66 percent in 2006-2007 and 71 percent in 1990-2000.

"This improvement in health insurance for children is good news. Still, too many families lack adequate health coverage or are at risk of losing coverage," said Kathy Ryg, president, Voices for Illinois Children. "Also, today's numbers don't reflect the full impact of the recession. We can expect that even more families will need public coverage over the next year."

The data were released on the Census Bureau's website and represent the only data available on state-level health insurance trends over time. The state-level figures are two-year averages of survey data in order to improve the reliability of the estimates.

The encouraging trends in health insurance coverage for children reflect the impact of the state's "All Kids" program, which began in July 2006. All Kids, a state-funded expansion of Medicaid and the State Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP), offers coverage for uninsured children regardless of family income, health status, or immigration status.

Families are responsible for monthly premiums and co-payments on a sliding scale based on household income. For example, for a family of four at 250% of the federal poverty level, monthly premiums are $40 per child, while the maximum annual co-payment is $500 per child for hospital services.

In December 2008, about 70,000 children were enrolled in an All Kids expansion. In addition, there is evidence that All Kids outreach efforts and a unified application process have had positive spillover effects on enrollment in Medicaid and CHIP. Between December 2005 and December 2008, participation of Illinois children in Medicaid increased by almost 250,000, while CHIP enrollment rose about 65,000. Since the implementation of All Kids, the total number of children covered under state programs has increased from 1.2 million to more than 1.5 million.

"These findings confirm that All Kids has been a success," said Ryg. "Sustaining this progress won't be easy, even though the cost of All Kids expansion is relatively small - it represents less than 1 percent of total medical assistance spending. Illinois still faces huge budget deficits, and our commitment to health coverage for children will be severely tested."

Posted on September 15, 2009


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