SPRINGFIELD – Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich today signed legislation that creates the Health Care Justice Act and requires the state to assemble a 29-member task force to develop a comprehensive health care plan for Illinois.
“Despite recent expansions in eligibility for publicly funded health coverage programs, employer-sponsored and other private sources of health insurance are becoming less affordable and accessible and a large number of Illinoisans remained uninsured,” Gov. Blagojevich said. “This bill focuses attention on a very serious issue and begins a process to address the problem.”
The Adequate Health Care Task Force, to consist of five members appointed by the Governor and six appointments by each of the four legislative leaders, will be required to hold public hearings in each congressional district and maintain a Web site detailing the group’s work. Recommendations for a health care access plan are to be submitted to the General Assembly by March 15, 2006 and legislators are encouraged to act on the plan by Jan. 1, 2007.
Recent estimates indicate that nearly 14 percent of the Illinois population lacked health insurance and many residents have experienced periods of time when health benefits were not affordable, available or adequate in covering all their health care needs. Disproportionately large numbers of the working poor, minorities and young adults are often entirely without coverage.
The Governor noted the lack of health insurance is a significant barrier to access to health care services, including services that could prevent many diseases from occurring and existing diseases from becoming more serious.
And, he added, uninsured residents usually lack the resources to pay for needed care and are likely to delay seeking care until their health has deteriorated and the treatments required are more complicated and more costly.
Research has found that individuals who lack health insurance were more likely to experience diminished health status, poorer health outcomes when care is sought and earlier mortality.
In addition to health-related impacts, high levels of uninsured impose serious economic burdens. For individuals, inadequate health insurance coverage results in medical debt, a frequent and increasing cause for personal bankruptcies. For providers, treatments administered to the uninsured result in significant financial losses due to uncompensated care. And, for society, caring for the uninsured imposes a collective economic burden as providers shift costs to recoup losses and public funds are absorbed by necessary safety-net health programs.
“Improving access will come with a price tag, but impeded access is already very expensive in both financial and humanitarian aspects,” said Dr. Eric E. Whitaker, state public health director. “Barriers that prevent access to a continuum of care, from preventive services through treatment and rehabilitation, are challenges to the core functions of public health and present problems that cannot be ignored.”
House Bill 2268 was sponsored by Rep. William Delgado (D-Chicago) and Sen. Barack Obama (D-Chicago.) It is effective immediately.