SPRINGFIELD – Governor Rod R. Blagojevich today commended the Illinois House of Representatives for unanimously approving his landmark veterans’ health insurance initiative that will help make sure that more Illinois veterans have access to affordable, comprehensive medical coverage. Senate Bill 627 creates the Veterans Care program, which is designed to help up to 9,000 veterans in Illinois who earn too much to qualify for Veterans Administration Healthcare but who do not have health insurance.
“After people have given up years of their own lives to serve their country in the military, the least we can do is make sure they can see a doctor and get healthcare when they need it,” said Gov. Blagojevich. “Veterans Care will help thousands of Illinois veterans get the health coverage at prices they can afford. I commend the House of Representatives for moving forward on this issue.”
There are 70,000 uninsured veterans in Illinois. The federal Veterans Health Administration (VHA) covers veterans who have service-related disabilities or who have recently returned from active duty, and then, space permitting, covers other veterans who do not have health insurance and have an income below a threshold set by the Veterans Health Administration each year. Veterans who have no access to care and who regularly fall through the cracks are those earning above the VHA threshold, which varies by county based on the local standard of living.
This new program will be operated by the Department of Healthcare and Family Services in collaboration with the Illinois Department of Veterans Affairs. The Departments estimate that approximately 9,000 veterans will qualify for this new program. Veterans Care would provide comprehensive healthcare to them at affordable rates, with average monthly premiums of $40. The program would kick off September 1, 2006.
“In the Land of Lincoln, no veteran should go without decent health care coverage,” said Lt. Governor Pat Quinn. “Veterans Care will assist our veterans in obtaining the comprehensive, affordable health care they deserve.”
To be eligible for Veterans Care, a veteran must meet the following criteria:
- Be between the ages of 19 and 64;
- Have been uninsured for the past six months;
- Be ineligible for VHA and other healthcare programs like FamilyCare;
- Have a household income up to 25% of the Federal Poverty Level above the VHA threshold at the beginning of the program, and if funds permit after 6 months of operation up to 50% of the federal poverty level above the VHA threshold;
- Not have been dishonorably discharged from service.
- Be willing to pay a monthly premium of $40, plus co-payments for doctor visits and prescriptions.
“Veterans who up until now have no access to federal healthcare will be able to qualify and get crucial preventative care, as well as visit their doctors regularly and get the prescriptions they need,” added Rep. Frank J. Mautino (D-Spring Valley), who sponsored the legislation in the House of Representatives.
Veterans Care is another key step taken by the Governor to help the state’s veterans at a time when they have been left behind by the federal government.
Last year, following through on a promise made during his 2005 State of the State Address, the Governor hired 25 new Veteran Service Officers and deployed them across the state to significantly improve the state’s outreach to Illinois one million veterans and their families. Thanks to the increase in staffing, the VSOs have helped more than 5,000 additional veterans apply and receive federal compensation and other benefits during the first quarter of 2006, compared to the same time period in 2005.
VSOs help veterans cut through the red tape and bureaucracy associated with applying and receiving compensation and other benefits from the federal Veterans’ Healthcare Administration. Their primary job responsibility is assisting in applying for nearly $400 million in federal money that goes unclaimed each year by the 26.4 million veterans across the country. For example, at the “Supermarket of Veterans’ Benefits” hosted last July at Chicago’s Navy Pier, thousands of veterans were unaware that they can access a variety of services, including education and vocational training, low-interest home loans and counseling.
The state’s 50 Veteran Service Offices will also serve as a sign-up location for Veterans Care.
SB 627 passed the House of Representatives by a vote of 107-0-0. The bill passed the Senate unanimously on April 6th. The bill now heads back to the Senate for final action.