The economy might be down, but health insurance coverage for children is up in Illinois

Maryalene LaPonsie | September 29, 2010

By: Maryalene LaPonsie

When it comes to health insurance coverage, children are always a priority. Even the most hardened free market capitalist is inclined to agree that children shouldn't have to suffer through an illness. If Dad took off before birth and Mom can't hold down a job, is it really fair that their child goes without antibiotics for an infection or must forgo pain relief when drilling a cavity?

For most, the answer is no. So when the Census Bureau released figures that show 95 percent of Illinois children have health insurance coverage, we can all cheer. The state made it a priority to ensure that all children have access to medical coverage and has been steadily moving towards that goal.

While Illinois lags behind the 98.5 percent coverage rate of Massachusetts, which passed state legislation several years ago that requires all residents to carry health insurance coverage, the 5 percent uninsured rate for the Land of Lincoln is a marked improvement over the 9 percent of children who are uninsured nationally.

Creating a health insurance safety net in Illinois

When he wasn't busy selling President Barack Obama's former Senate seat, former Governor Rod Blagojevich was championing an expansion of health insurance for kids in Illinois. His All Kids program extended coverage to children of illegal immigrants and those whose families made too much money to qualify for traditional government health plans.

Under the All Kids program, parents may still be required to pay a premium for health insurance. The monthly amount starts at $0 and goes up to $300 per child per month. For a family of four earning $72,000 a year, the state discount health insurance runs $140 per month for two children.

Because the health plan runs outside the normal income mandates required by the federal government, the state has to pick up the tab for All Kids coverage. In 2009, Illinois taxpayers spent $70 million on subsidized medical insurance for families whose income exceeded the federal maximums, as well as illegal immigrants.

Unemployment in the heart of Illinois

While most of the state has seen gains in medical coverage for children, one region seems to lag behind. Macon County, in central Illinois, has been hard hit by the recession. Manufacturing jobs disappeared as factories were boarded up and companies shipped operations overseas. As unemployment increased, so too did the rate of the uninsured.

Statewide, 13.3 percent of residents are uninsured, but in Macon County, 15 percent have no medical safety net. More troubling is the 14 percent of children in the county who have no medical coverage and limited access to health care. Officials vow to become more aggressive in promoting options such as the All Kids program to unemployed families.

As one of the bright spots in an otherwise dismal economy, the health insurance rate for children in Illinois is good news we can all appreciate. While discount health insurance plans may cost taxpayers, it is likely a drop in the bucket compared to the medical and social cost of ignoring the medical needs of children.

Quality health care in the early years translates to fewer costly, chronic conditions later. Healthy children are also more likely to do better in school and graduate with an education that will enable them to be productive members of their community. As the old saying goes, an ounce of prevention is certainly worth a pound of cure.

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