PI Original Matthew Blake Thursday August 2nd, 2012, 10:59am

With Blagojevich Behind Bars, 'All Kids' Continues To Be A Beacon In IL Children's Health Care

Conceived by then-Governor Rod Blagojevich in 2005, the All Kids program has helped ensure that 96 percent of Illinois children get health care insurance.

Prior to being sentenced to 14 years in prison for corruption last December, former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich pled for leniency. Blagojevich reminded U.S. District Judge James Zagel that he would be leaving his two daughters without their father – and that he created the All Kids health care program.

Whatever Blagojevich was thinking, there was some logic to mentioning All Kids to the judge. Despite its mountain of other troubles from political corruption to the budget deficit, Illinois ranks fourth among states in the percentage of insured children, according to a national foundation report.

So health care advocates guard against further All Kids cuts. Effective July 1, All Kids now only covers all kids whose parents are at or below 300 percent of the federal poverty level. The General Assembly and Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn issued the new limitation last year.

“There is little doubt that All Kids has been effective in reducing the uninsured rate,” says Larry Joseph, director of the fiscal policy center at the Chicago-based Voices for Illinois Children.

As Progress Illinois examined Friday, the Annie E. Casey Foundation “National Kids Count” data book finds that four percent of, or 140,000, Illinois children lack health coverage compared to eight percent nationally. Illinois shines here even as it lags in other areas such as preventing child poverty.

Joseph contends that All Kids is effective because of the “spillover effect.” Just 73,350 kids were enrolled in the program as of June 2010, according to numbers the Fiscal Policy Center compiled from state and federal government sources.

But the advent of All Kids pushed thousands of Illinois families to apply for government health care, and it turned out that many applicants qualified for the State Children’s Health Insurance Program, SCHIP, or Medicaid. “The state has a single application that says 'All Kids' but depending on other factors it may be Medicaid or SCHIP,” Joseph says.

In total, they are 1.7 million Illinois children in All Kids, Medicaid, or SCHIP, according to Mike Claffey, spokesman for the Illinois Department of Health Care and Family Services.

Kent Redfield, a political science professor at the University of Illinois-Springfield, says All Kids has left a positive mark.

“Blagojevich wanted to be the ‘health care governor’ and be the one who dealt with it without raising taxes. He wanted to do it because it was the right thing, but he also saw it as a way to position himself for higher office,” Redfield says.

Blagojevich signed All Kids into law in November 2005, a moment in Illinois history that is dramatically different from today. Instead of the Medicaid and state budget cuts of this past spring’s legislative session, Illinois was expanding health care services back in 2005, especially to children. Initially, Blagojevich accelerated efforts by Gov. George Ryan to enroll children in SCHIP.

Created by the Clinton administration and Congress in 1997, SCHIP provides health care for children with parents of moderate income who exceed the poverty level requirements to qualify for Medicaid. As with Medicaid, the state and federal governments split the cost.

In essence, All Kids expanded SCHIP to all Illinois children, but with the state entirely paying the cost. The state would recoup some money through modest monthly premium payments from parents. 

All Kids arrived years prior to both the state budget crises of today and the Affordable Care Act, during a time when state governments were experimenting with their own health care reforms. “All Kids was definitely a model for other states to look at,” says Jim Duffett, executive director of the Champaign-based Campaign For Better Health Care coalition.

In 2007, two Urban Institute scholars released a report, “A Race to the Top: Illinois’ All Kids Initiative.” Authors Teresa Coughlin and Mindy Cohen effusively praised the “great success” of All Kids for enrolling 50,000 Illinois children in its first year and inspiring similar programs in Pennsylvania, Tennessee, and Washington.

The authors conclude that a big reason why is the “particularly strong leadership of Governor Rod Blagojevich.”

That same year, Blagojevich proposed Illinois Covered, which would have insured all adults in the state. The General Assembly killed the bill, and the governor could not push additional health care reforms before his January 2009 impeachment.

With Blagojevich a disgrace, All Kids began to be associated with the former governor’s mismanagement and reckless spending. A 2011 Illinois Auditor General report found that many families required to pay premiums for All Kids coverage were simply not paying these premiums and were avoiding penalties for their nonpayment.

Also, the Blagojevich administration partly issued pension bonds instead of raising taxes to pay for All Kids. “The national and state economy went south and we were not paying providers and not making pension payments,” Redfield contends.

Joseph points out that these problems are hardly unique. The state has borrowed money for almost all its programs and services, and unreliable provider reimbursements are an issue throughout the Illinois health care system.

Joseph worries that the 1.6 billion in Medicaid cuts the General Assembly passed in May could have a “negative spillover” effect on All Kids. However, All Kids itself is not yet facing additional cuts from the rollbacks it endured last year. With so many other parts of the Illinois social safety net in jeopardy, children’s health insurance coverage is relatively strong.


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