SPRINGFIELD – Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich announced that an ambitious new state program will be launched Monday aimed at helping women who are leaving the Medicaid program to avoid unplanned pregnancies and providing them with reproductive health care.
The Illinois Healthy Women program will offer women comprehensive reproductive health care coverage, including annual physicals, pap smears, mammograms, treatment for sexually transmitted diseases, multi-vitamins and folic acid, contraceptives and HIV testing. The five‑year demonstration project is run by the state’s Medicaid agency, the Illinois Department of Public Aid (IDPA). The federal government will cover 90 percent of the cost of the family planning services provided under the new program.
“The goal here is to give women greater control over their lives and to ensure healthier birth outcomes for both mothers and children,” Gov. Blagojevich said. “We want to empower women and give them the opportunity to determine if and when they want to get pregnant.”
The new initiative fits in with the Blagojevich Administration’s overall emphasis on providing health care for children and families and the Governor’s demonstrated commitment to women’s health. The Governor has expanded the KidCare and FamilyCare programs run by IDPA to provide comprehensive health care for tens of thousands more children and parents. In addition, Blagojevich last July signed legislation that provides “contraceptive equity” for women by requiring private insurers to cover FDA approved contraceptives for women when they cover prescription drugs.
Under this new program, starting Monday, April 19, IDPA will identify women between the ages of 19 and 44 whose eligibility for medical assistance is expiring. By the end of the month, these women will receive a pink Illinois Healthy Women Card in the mail that entitles them to an initial three months of family planning and reproductive health coverage. They will have to send in an enrollment form to qualify for nine additional months and will have to reapply annually to retain membership in the program.
IDPA officials estimate that about 6,000 women each month will be offered the chance to participate in the program. The state agency estimates that 5,000 unplanned pregnancies will be prevented over the five years of the program.
Officials stressed that the new program will not be open to the general public. However, low-income women who are not eligible for Illinois Healthy Women but in need of family planning and reproductive health services can obtain referrals to family planning clinics by contacting the Department of Human Services help line at 1-800-323-4769.
Director of Public Aid Barry S. Maram said the program is designed to improve the health of women and children and to provide support to women making the transition from welfare to work.
“Studies have shown that the use of family planning services can reduce a low-income woman’s probability of pregnancy by 79 percent,” Maram said. “We want to give women the power to time their pregnancies, because research shows that better spacing between pregnancies leads to healthier outcomes for the mother and child.”
The new program has strong support among the medical community.
“This is a great thing,” said Dr. Jeffrey Maurus, a private practitioner in obstetrics and gynecology in Rock Island who is an adviser on family planning issues to both state and local governments. “Unplanned pregnancies are a major problem in Illinois. They tend to be more complicated, especially among mothers in lower income brackets. And closely spaced births are more likely to result in babies that are too small or born too early.”
Maurus said an added benefit from the new federally funded initiative will be that it will help lighten the load on the network of family planning clinics around the state that already are serving low-income women. Under Illinois Healthy Women, program participants can continue to receive family planning services from their primary care provider, ensuring continuity of care.
Services that will be covered during a family planning visit include:
- An initial physical, including patient education about reproductive health and family planning options.
- Annual physical exam for reproductive health, including a pap smear.
- Tests and treatment for sexually transmitted diseases.
- Needed lab tests, including HIV testing.
- Contraceptive drugs and supplies, plus insertion and removal of devices.
- Tubal ligation.
- Multi-vitamins and folic acid.
- Referrals for primary care services through a well‑developed network of providers