Illinois task force pushes plan for universal coverage
■ The group favors mandatory insurance purchasing, employer contributions, state subsidies and discounted rates for low-income people. But lawmakers must consider the proposal.
By Doug Trapp — Posted Feb. 5, 2007
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Washington -- An Illinois task force concluded more than 20 months of work Jan. 18 by recommending a Massachusetts-like universal health coverage plan.
The package would require every Illinois resident and even nonresidents -- including college students and undocumented immigrants -- to obtain health insurance or pay a penalty, as yet undefined.
The Adequate Health Care Task Force recommendations also call for insurance companies to offer a standard, state-defined, state-subsidized insurance plan available at discounted rates for lower-income individuals. Employers would be required either to provide health insurance or pay a per-worker assessment, also as yet undefined. The plan would result in an estimated $1.5 billion in new spending for employers.
It recommends that Illinois Medicaid reimburse physicians at commercial rates, above Medicare and far above the current program rates, said Craig A. Backs, MD, a task force member and immediate past president of the Illinois State Medical Society.
The proposal was approved unanimously by 20 panel members at the group's Jan. 18 final meeting. Nine of the 29 members did not attend.
Although no one voted against the plan last month, five insurance industry representatives and a single-payer advocate on the task force voted against it at the task force's November 2006 meeting. The insurance industry dissenters wrote a minority report detailing concerns that the plan would limit consumer choice and lower health care quality in Illinois.
"We really didn't hit upon some of the larger issues that cause some of the crisis that we're currently in," said Joe Roberts, a senior sales associate with the independent insurance company Caywood and Associates. Those issues include the steady increase in medical costs.
Other task force members said they learned a lot through the process, which included public hearings in 19 Illinois congressional districts. But some weren't optimistic that the plan would make it through the Illinois General Assembly as written.
"I don't think it can be understood, let alone do any good," said Quentin Young, MD, an internist and a single-payer advocate. He serves as national coordinator of Physicians for a National Health Program.
The proposal will need at least $3.6 billion in state money and still has to be translated into a bill by the Legislature. It is expected to cover 89% of the 1.7 million uninsured in Illinois and 98% of all Illinois residents.
The plan does not specify financing.
The next step is for the task force, created by the Illinois Health Care Justice Act passed in 2004, to send the proposal to the Legislature.
Gerardo Cardenas, a spokesman for Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, said the governor is withholding his opinion until the final, post-vote report is released.
Even with its unresolved financial issues, the plan "will capture an awful lot of attention," said Ken Robbins, president of the Illinois Hospital Assn.