Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Time for Plan C

Scooting around the Illinois General Assembly didn’t work this time for Gov. Rod Blagojevich. A bipartisan legislative committee shot down his emergency plan to expand state-sponsored health insurance to 147,000 Illinois adults Tuesday. The rule would have covered those adults who make up to 400 percent of the federal poverty level, or about $82,000 for a family of four. The committee voted 9-2 to reject and suspend that emergency rule on the grounds that it was too broad, didn’t warrant an emergency and bypassed the legislative process.

The governor did try to work such legislation through the General Assembly this summer, but the measure hasn’t gone anywhere since July. So instead, the Blagojevich Administration tried expanding the program through the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules, a 12-member committee with an equal number of Democrats and Republicans.

Two of the GOP committee members — Rep. Brent Hasssert of Romeoville and Rep. Rosemary Mulligan of Des Plaines — supported the governor’s emergency ruling. Nine others rejected it. Sen. James Clayborne of Belleville was absent.

But the rejection came with a recommendation. In its ruling, the committee said one part of the governor’s proposal does warrant emergency action in light of federal rule changes that will kick 15,000 to 20,000 adults off of the State Children’s Health Insurance Program next year. “We said in our recommendation that if they would simply issue a new emergency rule that just dealt with SCHIP, we would all support that,” said Rep. Lou Lang, a Skokie Democrat. “The department flack refused to do it, and so you have to wonder if they really feel any part of it is an emergency.”

As for the administration’s next step, Department of Healthcare and Family Services spokeswoman Ruth Igoe would only say the department is “reviewing our options and timelines available to us.” She did add that immediate action is warranted. “Our staff noted [Tuesday] that health care is an emergency for a lot of people in Illinois, and we believe this was an emergency. And we believe we have the authority to provide health care for these people. But at this point, we’re reviewing our options and the timelines available to us.”

The administration does have a fallback. It filed the same proposal as a regular rule, but that process takes a lot longer because it requires 45 days for public comment and another 45 days for JCAR review.

Lang said the committee will review that proposal, too, but the governor can’t keep trying to spend millions on new health care programs without legislative oversight. “While we all support a better health care system, we have something under our Constitution called the Illinois General Assembly. If governor wants to continue to try to bypass the legislative process in his effort to create a new health care system for Illinois, I think he’s got some real problems ahead of him.”

According to the department, expanding the state’s FamilyCare program to cover those 147,000 adults would cost about $43 million for this fiscal year, which ends in June 2008. Those costs were disputed by Rep. John Fritchey, a Chicago Democrat who also sits on JCAR. See the Gatehouse story from November 10.

And see more background in my October article, “Booster Shot?”.

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