Ill. Task Force Makes Little Progress

Published February 1, 2006

In 2004, the Adequate Health Care Task Force (AHCTF) was commissioned by Illinois’ Health Care Justice Act to look into the issues of the uninsured, health care access, and health care affordability in the state. The task force is to publish a set of recommendations by October 2006 concerning the development of a health care access plan.

The law states the Illinois General Assembly is “strongly encouraged” to vote on legislation that either enacts the task force’s recommendations or provides for another health care access plan for implementation by as early as July 1, 2007.

As of December 2005, the task force had met only four times.

Members Not Consulted

At the October 26 meeting in Chicago, some members expressed consternation that the office of Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D) had never consulted with the task force concerning his All Kids proposal. The group was not consulted prior to the introduction of the concept or at any point through the legislation’s passage during the fall 2005 veto session.

The legislation, which guarantees government health insurance to all children in the state regardless of family income, is targeted at what is arguably the least expensive segment of the state’s population to finance health care for.

Some See Anti-Market Bias

In December, Deborah Chollet, Ph.D., a senior fellow with Mathematica Policy Research, a research and survey group based in Washington, D.C. and Princeton, New Jersey, spoke to the task force. Chollet characterized consumer-driven health plans (CDHPs) and health savings accounts (HSAs) as essentially nothing more than a clever disguise for cost shifting. She suggested that 8,300 enrollees in 12 months of Dirigo (Maine’s troubled state-run health plan) constituted a successful launch of the public program.

Because of remarks like these, some task force members have expressed concern over what they see as an anti-market bias evident in much of the expert testimony heard by the task force.

For Pamela Mitroff, a Wheaton, Illinois consultant and former director of health care and workers’ compensation policy with the Illinois State Chamber of Commerce, “a troubling and somewhat surprising aspect of the task force is that many speakers have never met a Medicaid expansion program they didn’t like.”

Research Delayed

Provision is made in the Health Care Justice Act for the state’s Department of Public Health to hire a research consultant through a formal request for proposal (RFP) process to assist the AHCTF with its review of up to six different health care access models. As much as $600,000 of the task force’s $1 million appropriation has been budgeted by the Department of Public Health for payment of a research consultant’s fees.

Originally scheduled to be published and distributed in September 2005, the release of the RFP is now at least four months behind schedule.

To date, there have been no discussions at the task force meetings about possible future health care access models.

Positive Steps Ahead?

The Department of Public Health is planning a special meeting, toward the end of April, that will attempt to address private-sector solutions for the uninsured. One of the speakers will be Ron Bachman from the Center for Health Transformation, the organization founded by former U.S. Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich. The meeting is being organized by the department in collaboration with members of the task force who are affiliated with the insurance industry.

Janet Trautwein, executive vice president of the National Association of Health Underwriters (NAHU), and Jessica Waltman, NAHU’s legislative policy research director, are scheduled to testify at the February 22 meeting in Chicago. NAHU has studied private-sector health reform initiatives and, in May 2005, launched the Health Care Coverage Options Database, an online tool to help make American health care consumers aware of the coverage options, public and private, available to them.

Given the significant increase in state government’s role in health care since Blagojevich took office in January 2003, the governor’s critics are particularly concerned the AHCTF process may result in an even greater expansion of state government’s role, with a single payer system being the inevitable result.

That the task force has come together at all is a good sign, said Mitroff, and she hopes it may at some point be able to take a more panoramic view. “We who represent a more private-sector view will continue to ask questions and push for recognition of private-sector delivery and financing of health care,” Mitroff pledged.

John P. Garven ([email protected]) is a Heartland Institute policy advisor and co-founder and president of Benico Ltd., an employee benefits consulting firm based in Huntley, Illinois.

For more information …

The National Association of Health Underwriters’ October 2005 analysis of state-level health insurance market reforms is available online at

NAHU’s October 2005 analysis of Maine’s Dirigo Plan is available online at

A roster of members of Illinois’ Adequate Health Care Task Force members is available online at