Ill. Officials Say Kids Health Program Will Enroll 95,000

July 13, 2006

State officials predicted Tuesday that 95,000 children would sign up for the state’s All Kids health insurance program in its first year, nearly double what they initially expected.

Despite the larger enrollment, the program’s $45 million budget will not have to be increased, state officials say.

“Our budget will more than cover the cost of all of these enrollments,” said Kathleen Strand, a spokeswoman for the Department of Healthcare and Family Services. “We had to put a conservative estimate out there. Everything is on track.”

Lawmakers greeted the new estimate cautiously, with some questioning whether the numbers would add up.

Strand said about 45,000 children have signed up so far. About 40,000 of those would have qualified for existing health programs but had never signed up. An additional 5,000 children would not be eligible for any government health care if All Kids didn’t exist, she said.

That imbalance should shrink as the program attracts more families who can’t afford private insurance but don’t qualify for other government programs, she said.

All Kids, which debuted July 1, is the nation’s first program meant to ensure every child has access to some health insurance coverage. It was approved last year by the Democrat-led Legislature along partisan lines and expected to have 50,000 enrollees in the first year.

It was created mainly to reach families making between $40,000 and $80,000 a year, too much to qualify for state-provided health coverage, but not enough to afford private insurance.

Strand said the early enrollees are primarily in that income range.

The new, 95,000 estimate is based on agency projections and trends seen in other programs, she said.

“We’re happy about the way the enrollments are trending,” Strand said. “Now we are going to be able to exceed our goals within our budget, which is a good situation to be in.”

Robyn Gabel, executive director of the Illinois Maternal and Child Health Coalition, said the numbers are an accurate reflection of hard work by the state and community providers to reach an estimated 250,000 Illinois kids who now lack coverage.

“As long as the outreach is kept up and the media is kept up, I think that we will be that much closer to insuring every child in the state,” Gabel said.

Lawmakers from both parties said the numbers raise budget questions.

The program is supposed to be supported by co-payments from enrollees and by cutting health costs in other parts of the state budget. But many of the people enrolled so far are poor enough that they pay little for their care, and the cost-cutting switch to managed care is still under way.

Two Senate Republicans and members of the legislative Joint Committee on Administrative Rules who asked for the numbers said they would review them closely, with one saying they should be audited to determine their legitimacy.

“How in the world, if your numbers are accurate, are you going to pay for it?” asked Sen. Brad Burzynski, R-Clare.

Two top Democratic budget negotiators said they believe the administration’s claims that the All Kids budget will work. But one cautioned that such a large enrollment boost puts pressure on the state to make sure there’s enough money to cover everyone.

“Any time you start a new program, you’re really taking a stab in the dark at how it’s going to go,” said Rep. Gary Hannig, D-Litchfield.

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