Healthcare Justice for Illinois

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After over a decade in which it was considered
a third rail of politics, and despite all
the lobbying on the part of insurance and
pharmaceutical industries, health care reform
is again making political waves as we realize
that our health care system is fundamentally
flawed. This is not particularly surprising,
withAmericans experiencing premium hikes
year after year for less comprehensive coverage,
the salaries of top executives in the
insurance industry growing exponentially,
and the ranks of un- and underinsured U.S
residents continuing its climb. Across the
c o u n t r y, state legislatures are being pressured
to revive the health care debate and taking
steps towards addressing this large and
growing crisis, and Illinois is no exception.
On any given day, approximately 1.8
million people are uninsured in Illinois
alone. However, this US Census figure
doesn’t take into account those that are
uninsured for only a portion of the calendar
year. According to a 2004 Families USA
report, 3.6 Illinoisans, or nearly one in
three, were uninsured for all or part of 2003
and 2004. Of these, 76% were workers or
members of working families, as a growing
number of employers in Illinois cannot
afford to offer insurance to their workers. In
fact, 53% of workers in 2001 were not
offered insurance, whether due to small
businesses not being able to afford the rising
costs of health care, or to businesses in
general having to cope in an increasingly
competitive and globalized market.
Beyond the statistics are the stories of
people whose lives have been devastated by
a health care system that has failed them.
Experiences of individuals and working families
being put into coverage plans including
health savings accounts and carved up insurance
pools, designed to provide those
enrolled with more individual “control” of
their healthcare that leaves them in financial
crises. Stories of being dropped from insurance
coverage in the middle of radiation
treatment or chemotherapy and not being
able to obtain coverage without paying astronomical
premiums and deductibles due to a
pre-existing condition, if offered coverage at
all. Or the accounts of the growing ranks of
underinsured with ‘bare bones’ policies that
often will not cover unexpected medical
needs or basic preventative care. Te s t i m o n i e s
such as these and themany,many others like
them are demonstrative of a fundamental
problem with our health care system that
often values profits over health and exclusion
over dignity.
While most would agree, regardless of
political persuasion or ideological worldview,
that there is a systemic problem with
our current health care system, few can
agree on a solution that can address these
issues. With the current political climate in
Washington, health care advocates are
increasingly looking to the states to implement
comprehensive reform, as the possibility
of federal action appears unlikely for
now. Illinois is one of a handful of states
that health care activists are watching closely,
particularly the process set in motion by
a little-known piece of legislation known as
the Health Care Justice Act, passed by the
General Assembly in 2004 and sponsored
by State Rep. William Delgado and then-
State Sen. Barack Obama.
The Act began a dialogue in Illinois that
brought the key stakeholders in the health
care system together: consumers, grassroots
advocacy organizations, providers, labor
unions, hospitals, faith communities, and
even the insurance industry. This dialogue
began through the formation of the Adequate
Health Care Taskforce, appointed by
the majority and minority leaders in both
the Illinois House and Senate, and by Governor
Blagojevich. The Taskforce was
charged with holding public hearings in
each Congressional District in the state to
get input from Illinoisans about their experiences
with the health care system, both
positive and negative, and suggestions for
reform directions. This provision effectively
creates the space for a participatory
process, allowing residents of Illinois and
the key stakeholders in the health care system
to have their concerns heard, rather
than mandating an outcome that may not
meet the needs of Illinois’ current situation.
Over 2000 Illinois residents turned out for
these hearings and gave a wide range of testimony.
The hearing for the 15th District
was held on February 15 in Champaign and
drew over 100 local and regional attendees
addressing a variety of issues, including the
importance of mental and oral health services,
the impact of health care at the bargaining
table, and increasing Emergency
Room utilization by the uninsured as their
only route to medical access.
At this point, after the public hearings,
the Taskforce is in the process of choosing
plans that will bemodeled and quantified for
expansions in coverage, impacts on quality
of care received by consumers, and options
for payment including short-term cost and
long-term savings, among other dimensions
of analysis. Plans to be modeled range from
a pooled risk, shared responsibility singlepayer
system to the further commodification
of health care under bargain shopping,
stripped down health savings accounts.
After this has been completed, the Ta s k f o r c e
is to submit a plan, or multiple plans, to the
GeneralAssembly by October 1, 2006, to be
acted upon by December 31, 2006 and with
an implementation date no later than July 1,
2007. The only criteria the Taskforce has to
judge such plans are the principles articulated
in the legislation, including access to a
range of preventative, acute, and long-term
care services; portability of coverage;
regional and local consumer participation;
cost-containment measures; and aff o r d a b l e
coverage options for the small business market,
in addition to others.
The Campaign for Better Health Care
was a main mover of the Health Care Justice
Act and is the largest grassroots health care
advocacy coalition in Illinois, representing
over 300 organizations and thousands of
consumers, and raising the medical, economic,
and moral imperatives of health care
access and aff o r d a b i l i t y. The Campaign has
been organizing around the public hearings
throughout Illinois to make sure that individuals
and organizations are made aware of
this historic public debate, and that consumers
are able to participate in this process.
As we move into this second phase, the
Campaign is continuing its efforts to raise
awareness of this dialogue and to empower
consumers to advocate for justice in health
care. This will culminate in dozens of
actions across the state in September and
O c t o b e r, urging the Taskforce to recommend,
and the General Assembly to enact,
comprehensive health care reform. This six
week push will kick off with the Health Care
Sabbath, in which over 100 communities of
faith will participate in discussing just and
compassionate health care. The effort will
also include a variety of other actions to
ensure that our elected officials know the
Health Care Justice Act needs to be a top
issue in the upcoming election. The Campaign
is working both within the Ta s k f o r c e
and with our coalition partners to ensure that
the final plan operates on the principle
Everybody In, Nobody Out. If you want to
become involved in working towards qualit
y, accessible, affordable health care for all
Illinois residents with the Campaign, visit
w w w. c b h c o n l i n e . o rg/hcjc or email kpowe
l l @ c b h c o n l i n e . o rg for more information.

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