Governor’s All Kids proposal faces growing concerns

By Rasmieyh Abdelnabi

Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s new health-care plan aimed to help uninsured children is facing criticism from local government officials and health care providers.

State Representative Bob Pritchard (R-Hinckley) and State Senator Brad Burzynski (R-Clare) met Monday morning with local doctors, pharmacists and health care officials at Kishwaukee Community Hospital, 626 Bethany Road, to discuss problems with the Illinois health-care system.

Area Republicans concerned

Burzynski began the presentation by discussing the state’s backlog of $1.5 billion in Medicaid bills. He said the state borrowed $1 billion to pay off debts.

“It has nothing to do with the rest of the state’s fiscal responsibilities, so that’s just dealing with Medicaid issues,” he said.

Medicaid is contributing to a large part of the budget each year, Burzynski said.

“Obviously, if left unchecked Medicaid will become a bigger piece of the pie,” he said.

Pritchard said 20 percent of the state budget is Medicaid bills. That number is increasing each year.

“Medicaid as a percentage of the state budget continues to grow some 20 percent today,” Pritchard said. “By the time the young people who are attending grade school get to be working adults it will consume about 60 percent.”

Blagojevich’s health-care plan includes a primary care case management system for those on Medicaid. Medicaid patients will be required to visit their primary doctors instead of going to the emergency room. The plan will help to lower the costs of emergency room visits related to minor illnesses. The money saved with the case-management program will be used to pay for the All Kids program.

Republicans in the Illinois General Assembly have supported this switch for the last three years, Burzynski said.

However, the new All Kids program is cause for concern, he said.

“What we’re facing is a situation where we have not even seen a bill yet; the language for the bill has not been written, Burzynski said. “It’s going to be my guess that the bill itself will be shorter than the press release was to announce it and that the devil will be in the details.”

Gerardo Cardenas , press secretary for Blagojevich, said all legislators were informed about the All Kids program by legislative liaisons, who are open to all questions and concerns. Leading legislators were approached by Health and Family Services with thorough details and information.

“This program will make Illinois the first and only state in the nation to offer comprehensive insurance to every child in the state,” he said.

Funding a main question

Aside from the lack of information about the All Kids program, Burzynski is concerned about the funding of the program.

“We’re talking about a massive expansion of state programs as well as potentially a massive change in the way we fund and deal with our Medicaid issues as a whole, and all of this to be done in six veto session days,” he said.

Burzynski said for a massive bill, such as All Kids, a couple of years is needed to review and consider it.

Kevin Poorten president and CEO of Kishwaukee Health System, said although he applauds the governor and legislators for their efforts to help the state’s children, he has some concerns. He said details about the program are limited. The program’s impact on state funding is unknown. Kishwaukee Health System is a consortium of area health care centers.

Poorten said a clear explanation of how the program will be paid for is unclear. The impact this program is going to have on other programs, including existing Medicaid programs, needs to be considered.

Kishwaukee Health System cannot endorse the All Kids plan until questions are answered, he said.

In August 2004, Medicaid bills in the county came to $800,000, A year later this increased to $1.8 million, said Brad Copple , administrator with KCH.

“We support the program,” Copple said. “Children are obviously a very important part of our society and can be a very vulnerable part of our society in terms of health care. One of the details that needs to be flushed out of this is funding.”

The Illinois General Assembly will meet today for the fall veto session. Blagojevich will address both houses about the program. Members are expected to vote on the All Kids Plan.

“This is not an issue of partisan politics,” Cardenas said. “The governor wants bipartisan support for this.”

Cardenas said during a press conference Monday that Blagojevich said, “Children’s health care should not be held hostage by partisan politics.”