Illinois Republican lawmakers are critizing the state’s new program to offer free or low-cost health insurance to all children, demanding to know how many people are signing up and criticizing the timing of a TV ad campaign.
All Kids, the nation’s first state program to offer health insurance for every child, starts July 1.
Rep. Rosemary Mulligan, R-Des Plaines, said a constituent complained to her that TV ads for the All Kids program were running in close proximity to Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s campaign ads attacking his GOP opponent in the November election, state Treasurer Judy Baar Topinka.
Mulligan said she saw the ads running in tandem and said it amounts to taxpayer dollars being used to expand the governor’s campaign fund. Health care is a major campaign issue for Blagojevich.
“If we’re putting five to 10 million dollars of the taxpayers’ money into this program just for advertising it, and you can’t even get the numbers of how many kids you’ve enrolled, I think it’s really inappropriate that those buys be coupled,” Mulligan said during a meeting of the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules. The group is a bipartisan legislative oversight committee.
Tamara Hoffman, chief of administration and rules for the Department of Healthcare and Family Services, told Mulligan she was unaware of the situation and would bring it to the attention of the agency’s media buyer.
HFS spokeswoman Kathleen Strand said after the meeting that the state agency has no control over the timing of the All Kids ads because that’s up to the TV stations that run them.
Strand later said the All Kids ad contract was about $3.2 million.
Like Mulligan, Republican state Sen. Dan Rutherford of Chenoa was frustrated by agency officials who provided no detail Tuesday on how many people have been signing up for the program.
“This is not a hard question. If you can’t find the person in that agency to tell you how many signed up so far, we got a much bigger problem going on,” Rutherford said.
Rutherford said he wants those numbers in writing by the committee’s July meeting.
Strand said the agency has estimated it will sign up 50,000 children in the first year and would provide lawmakers with accurate counts on completed enrollments.
She called lawmakers’ complaints about the program absurd and said they “have absolutely nothing to do with helping kids get health care.” She accused them of partisanship.
State Sen. Bradley Burzynski said the lack of some details about the program and how it will be run concerns him.
“It just raises a lot of issues,” the Clare Republican said.
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