updated 10/6/2005 5:39:27 PM ET 2005-10-06T21:39:27

Gov. Rod Blagojevich is proposing to make Illinois the first state to offer health insurance coverage for all children, including 250,000 who now lack any such benefits.

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Blagojevich planned to propose his “All Kids” program Thursday. The plan, which has the endorsement of Democratic legislative leaders, would target children in families that earn too little for private coverage but too much to qualify for existing state-funded programs.

The Democratic governor would pay for the program by revamping state health programs to cut expenses.

Parents would be able to “buy” their children’s insurance from the state, with premiums and copayments that would be much lower than private insurance policies.

It would extend health benefits to more than 125,000 children who aren’t eligible for the current KidCare insurance program. Officials hope the program’s publicity also would reach families of another 125,000 kids who qualify for KidCare but are not signed up.

“That means they can’t see a doctor when they need to, can’t get the medicine they need, can’t get the care they need,” Blagojevich said in a statement.

$45 million price tag
Blagojevich said the program’s cost — estimated at $45 million in the first year — could be covered by using managed care to cut $56 million in costs from the state’s health programs.

The state would reduce costly emergency room visits by hiring primary-care physicians to work with patients on maintaining good health, Blagojevich said. The changes would not apply to elderly or blind clients.

Republicans have pushed to use managed care for the state’s government-supported Medicaid programs for several years.

Republican Rep. Patricia Bellock who has unsuccessfully sponsored legislation to set up test programs for the idea, is pleased Blagojevich is moving in that direction but fears the state is being too generous. Offering insurance to people who make too much to qualify for Medicaid invites fraud, she said.

David Rousseau, a senior policy analyst for the Kaiser Family Foundation in Washington, D.C., said he believed Blagojevich’s new program would be the first of its kind. The foundation recently found that Illinois had the second-best record in the nation for adding children to health care programs.

With support from Senate President Emil Jones and House Speaker Michael Madigan, the plan could pass later this month and take effect July 1.

KidCare and FamilyCare, the program for parents, enroll more than 1.6 million people in Illinois, a number that Blagojevich has increased by more than 340,000 since taking office in 2003, according to aides. Still, tens of thousands of Illinois kids remain uninsured.

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