Guest Column: Making sure every child has health insurance

All it takes is seeing your child get sick just once, and you know how important it is to have health insurance. I’m a father. I have two daughters. Amy is 9. Anne is 2. And when either of them need to see a doctor or they need medicine, there’s nothing more important to us than making sure they get the care they need. Every child should have health insurance. I can’t think of anything more necessary, more fundamental. And yet there are 253,000 children all across Illinois who don’t have health insurance—and can’t get the health care they need.

More than half of those children come from working-class and middle-class families whose parents make too much money to qualify for state programs like KidCare, but not enough money to afford private health insurance. Because these families pursued the American Dream, worked hard at their jobs, and made more money than programs like KidCare allow, their children are forced to go without health care.

To me, it is inconceivable that in 2005, we live in a society where a quarter of a million children in our state—and more than 8 million children in our country—still don’t have health care. And it’s equally inconceivable that we punish working and middle-class families by denying their children access to the care they need.

That’s why, last week, I proposed the All Kids program. All Kids would make Illinois the only state in the nation to offer affordable, comprehensive health insurance to every single child who does not have health insurance. If the Illinois General Assembly passes our All Kids proposal, every child in Illinois—regardless of their background, health status, or their parents’ income—would be able to get the health care they need, including doctor’s visits, hospital stays, vision care, dental care, prescription drugs, among other options.

To participate in All Kids, parents would pay monthly premiums and co-payments. The program isn’t free. Payments are based on a sliding scale, so the more money you earn, the more you pay. But the rates are affordable, and that means a lot more children will have health care. We can pay for the state share of the cost by implementing some elements of managed care into our Medicaid program. The savings that come from measures like requiring patients to see their primary physician before going to a specialist will cover the cost of All Kids. That means All Kids won’t cost the state any new money, and it means we can be the only state to insure every child without asking anyone to pay more in taxes.

To me, the issue is very simple. It comes from a lesson rooted in the Bible—a lesson every child in Sunday school knows as the Golden Rule. Do onto others as you would have others do onto you. If politicians and government officials are good enough to have health insurance for their kids, then every parent is good enough to have health insurance for their kids—and every child has the right to get the care they need. That’s why my administration has fought for three years to make sure that children get access to health care, and it’s why 170,000 children who didn’t have health insurance before we took office, now do.

But we can do even better. We can be the only state in America that makes sure that every single child—every child—gets the health care they need. We can afford it. It makes sense. It will save us money in the long run. But most importantly, it’s the right thing to do.

In just a few weeks, the Illinois General Assembly will convene and take up our proposal. We’re very fortunate to have Senate President Emil Jones and House Speaker Michael Madigan as the lead sponsors of the bill. Their support gives us a good chance of passing our proposal. But it seems to me that no matter what party you belong to, when it comes to making sure that children have access to health care, you should put politics aside and do what’s right. Because if every politician is willing to live by the Golden Rule – for even just this one issue – then every child in Illinois can get the health care they need.

From the Oct. 19-25, 2005, issue

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