When the Covering All Kids Health Insurance Act launched 10 years ago, there were the usual concerns about costs, how many Illinois children it would help and the political motivation behind it for then-Gov. Rod Blagojevich.
Looking back in the archives, I didn’t find notable diatribes railing against the inclusion of undocumented immigrants in the program, which offers health insurance at a reduced cost to working-class families.
But we live in different times now, and there have been spirited attempts to kill a bill to continue the program for three more years. The program is currently set to expire at month’s end.
The bill passed in both chambers. Senate Republican Leader Christine Radogno and a handful of other Republicans voted for the bill — HB 5736 — proposed by Rep. Lisa Hernandez, D-Cicero, in the House and Iris Martinez, D-Chicago, in the Senate.
And it appears Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner is on board with it.
The governor’s spokeswoman, Catherine Kelly, said by email the bill “is actually a Rauner administration initiative, proposed by the Department of Healthcare and Family Services. … The administration proposed HB 5736 to ensure eligible children do not suddenly lose their insurance coverage when the Act sunsets on July 1.
Does that mean the governor will sign the bill? I think so, and maybe by the time you read this the ink will be drying, but Kelly didn’t respond to that question.
Hernandez confirmed the Department of Healthcare and Family Services, run by Rauner’s staff, got things rolling. She still had a tough time convincing some Republicans the program is worthwhile.
“One of the arguments I used was, ‘This came from HFS,’” she said.
Some advocates for the bill grew worried the governor would look at the bill unfavorably because of vocal opposition to coverage of undocumented children. I don’t think that crowd influences Rauner.
“The state of Illinois has no business providing welfare benefits to people who are in this state and country illegally, especially when we can’t even take care of our own citizens,” Rep. Bill Mitchell, R-Forsyth, wrote on his web site.
“Illinois lawmakers should prioritize the health and welfare of its citizens and legal residents instead of reward lawbreakers,” the Federation for American Immigration Reform wrote in a letter to followers.
“We saw how quickly we got attacked with anti-immigrant rhetoric,” Jesse Hoyt of the Healthy Illinois advocacy group said. “It scared some of the legislators we were working with.”
The bill’s dissenters fail to mention that this bill covers about 41,000 kids from working-class families and not even 800 are undocumented. All the families pay premiums and co-pays. They get nothing for free. I’m guessing Rauner sees that as reasonable.
Failure to pass this law would result in Illinois losing about $40 million in federal matching funds for citizens and documented immigrants through the Illinois Medicaid program, under which this portion of All Kids operates.
“States cannot diminish their children’s Medicaid eligibility through 2019 or they risk losing all of their federal Medicaid match,” Hernandez told me. “Therefore, the passage of HB 5736 is necessary in order to receive federal Medicaid match for the entire state of Illinois.”
Providing health-care coverage to kids is important enough; that extra $40 million from the feds makes it even more attractive.
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