SPRINGFIELD – Governor Rod R. Blagojevich today proclaimed July Health Care Month in the state of Illinois, launching a month-long effort to expand, improve and promote access to health care for Illinois families. During the month of July, the Governor will sign new laws designed to improve access to health care for working families and seniors, enact meaningful medical malpractice reform, ease the nursing shortage, provide hospitals with nearly $2 billion in new federal funds, help senior citizens afford the high cost of prescription drugs, increase critical cancer screening for women, raise awareness about various diseases, and increase funding for diabetes research. The Governor kicked off July is Health Care Monthby signing three bills that expand access to pharmacy services, dental care and provide another health care option to people who need it.
“To me, health care isn’t a privilege – it’s a right. That’s why we’re doing everything we can to make sure more people have health care, to make it more affordable, accessible and to help hospitals, doctors and nurses do their jobs. And if you live in Illinois and health care matters to you, July is going to be a great month,” Governor Blagojevich said.
As part of his efforts to ensure that everyone in Illinois has access to affordable health care, Governor Blagojevich will sign a number of pieces of legislation and launch new efforts to improve and expand access to health care including:
· Providing health care to people who need it: Since Governor Blagojevich took office, 313,000 more men, women and children have received health care through the KidCare and FamilyCare programs – at a time when most states are not only not providing more coverage for the working poor, but also kicking people off of Medicaid or significantly reducing their benefits. This year’s budget included funding to add another 56,000 men, women and children. The Kaiser Foundation has ranked Illinois the best state in the nation for providing health care to people who need it. This summer, the state will lead a coordinated effort to enroll even more men, women in children in health care programs they need.
· Medical Malpractice Reform: Governor Blagojevich will sign major medical malpractice reform legislation (Senate Bill 475), which will reduce the cost of insurance premiums for doctors and stop doctors from leaving the state. Governor Blagojevich helped pass the legislation despite his personal opposition to caps, because ensuring that doctors stay in Illinois and practice medicine in Illinois is a fundamental part of making sure that patients have access to good health care.
· Reducing the nursing shortage: Governor Blagojevich will sign a package of bills aimed at reducing the nursing shortage in Illinois, including making it easier for foreign nurses to practice in Illinois. The state also eliminated the nurses’ registration backlog this April and the Governor released new grants for nurses training this spring.
· Accessing nearly $2 billion in new federal health care money: This summer, Governor Blagojevich will sign the hospital assessment legislation, which means nearly $2 billion in new federal funding for Illinois hospitals. Last year, the Governor persuaded the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to approve a plan that meant nearly $500 million in new federal funds for Illinois hospitals. This plan, which requires federal approval but was constructed with their guidelines in mind, means more than three times that amount.
· Expanding funding for Diabetes research: Governor Blagojevich will sign House Bill 1581, creating the Diabetes Research Check-off Fund. Money collected in the fund will be given to the Illinois Department of Human Services (DHS) to provide grants for diabetes research.
· The most comprehensive state response to fill in gaps in the federal Rx drug benefit: The Governor will sign the “No Senior Left Behind” Act (Senate Bill 973), which is Illinois’ response to the federal Medicare rx drug benefit. Because of the major holes in the federal program, the Governor’s plan fills in the gaps, so Illinois seniors will not suffer the same fate that face seniors in other states. Illinois response to the flawed federal program is the most generous and comprehensive of any state in the nation.
· First state to require pharmacists to dispense female contraceptives: In April, Governor Blagojevich issued an emergency rule requiring pharmacists whose pharmacies sell contraceptives to dispense birth control to women with valid prescriptions. This summer, the Governor’s emergency rule will become permanent. In addition, the state will soon launch a new website to help women know which insurers now cover contraceptives, helping hundreds of thousands of women save an average of $400/ year on the cost of their contraceptives.
· Improving women’s health programs: Governor Blagojevich created the Illinois Healthy Women program to provide health care to women who otherwise would go without. To date, the program has served more than 90,000 women. In addition, Illinois has dramatically increased the number of mammograms and cervical cancer screenings since Governor Blagojevich took office. This July, the Governor will sign Senate Bill 12 requiring insurance companies to cover screening for breast cancer earlier in a woman’s life, Senate Bill 521 requiring ovarian cancer screening for women considered at-risk and Senate Bill 1 which creates a special instant win scratch-off lottery game called “Ticket for the Cure” to fund breast cancer research grants and services for breast cancer victims.
· Increase awareness of Chronic Kidney Disease: More than 2,000 Illinoisans died in 2002 as a result of Chronic Kidney Disease and it’s the ninth leading cause of death in Illinois and nationally. On Monday, the Governor signed Senate Bill 1461 requiring the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) to create a Chronic Kidney Disease Awareness, Testing, Diagnosis and Treatment Program.
This summer’s actions are part of Governor Blagojevich’s long standing effort to make sure that more people get more health care and better benefits, protect coverage for those who have health care, and help hospitals, doctors and nurses provide better health care. Specifically:
· One of only a handful of states to protect Medicaid recipients: The budget signed by Governor Blagojevich a few weeks ago ensures – for the third consecutive year, despite facing budget deficits – that Medicaid recipients maintain their health care, unlike states ranging from Missouri to Tennessee to Texas to Washington who are either kicking people off of Medicaid or significantly reducing benefits.
· First state to develop a statewide small business health insurance pool and program: Governor Blagojevich and the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce are developing a small business health insurance program that will help small businesses reduce their costs by 10-15% and provide more health care for their employees. Illinois will be the first state to create a pool where businesses of 50 employees or less can join, saving money on the negotiated rate, administrative costs and broker fees.
· First state to make Rx drugs from Europe and Canada available: Under Governor Blagojevich, Illinois became the first state to allow its citizens to purchase prescription drugs from Europe and Canada. More than 10,000 people have enrolled in the last few months alone to take advantage of lower prices (25-50% less) for over 120 name brand prescription drugs.
Kicking off July is Health Care Month, the Governor signed three pieces of legislation today:
· Increasing access to pharmacy services: Sponsored by Rep. Angelo Saviano (R-River Grove) and Sen. Antonio Munoz (D-Chicago), House Bill 1031 creates a new class of pharmacy licenses to provide round-the-clock, life-saving services to hospital patients. With the growing number of drug therapies used to save lives and improve the quality of life for Illinoisans, there is also a growing danger that drugs could cause potentially life-threatening interactions if used in the wrong situations. The law creates a new class of off-site pharmacies for hospitals and nursing homes, for when a pharmacist is not physically present to dispense critically needed medication. The law is effective immediately.
· Increasing access to the Local Government Health Plan: Sponsored by Rep. Roger Eddy (R-Huntsonville) and Sen. Dale Righter (R-Mattoon), House Bill 731 allows employees at smaller hospitals in Clay, Lawrence and Mercer counties to join the state’s Local Government Health Plan (LGHP) beginning next year. The LGHP, which has 20,000 members, is a self-insured employee health, prescription drug, dental and vision benefit program funded solely by participating units of local government. This bill expands the definition of a local government to include county hospitals with 100 or fewer beds, giving these employees more healthcare options. The law is effective January 1, 2006.
· Increasing access to dental care: Sponsored by Rep. John Fritchey (D-Chicago) and Sen. Don Harmon (D-Oak Park), House Bill 950 expands the availability of free dental clinics. Charitable, voluntary, and organized dental associations may now also offer the clinics, in addition to the community and public health-based programs already in use. These free services may be offered either at a clinic or from a private dental practice. The law is effective January 1, 2006.