Springfield State Journal Register

September 30, 2005

Durbin makes deal on health-care coverage
Compromise would bring funds for some with pre-existing conditions


WASHINGTON - After blocking a Senate bill for months because he said it shortchanged Illinois, U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin on Thursday announced a compromise that would restore some funding for Illinoisans who don't qualify for private insurance because of pre-existing medical conditions.

The compromise would increase Illinois' share of the funds to $5.4 million a year, up from $3.4 million as proposed in the original Senate bill.

However, that's still less than the average of $7.5 million a year Illinois received in 2002 and 2003 because more states are seeking the federal grants, Durbin aides said. The state high-risk pools haven't received any federal funding in two years.

"This is a victory for Illinois and the people who depend on the federal government for their health coverage," said Durbin of the compromise reached Wednesday night.

In February, the Springfield Democrat placed a hold on the Senate bill that reauthorizes a grant program for states to create and run high-risk insurance pools, objecting to a proposed formula change that would reduce funding to Illinois and other large states. The bill, which passed the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, would have resulted in hundreds of Illinoisans losing their health insurance, Durbin said.

Earlier this month, the Council for Affordable Health Insurance, an insurance trade group, protested Durbin's hold on the legislation.

"One senator should not stop needed help to states providing an important health insurance safety net to the sickest Americans," the group said in a letter to Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn.

Responding to the criticism, Durbin wrote back: "There is no reason a state like Illinois that has 1.8 million people lacking access to health insurance should suffer a funding cut of 60 percent while a state like South Dakota with 90,000 uninsured people sees its funding more than double. The money should follow the people in need, not be determined by politics."

On Thursday, Angela Hunter, the council's director of federal affairs, praised the agreement that would allow the legislation to move toward final passage.

"I knew this issue could be resolved if people just sat and talked about it," Hunter said.

Timothy Sullivan, interim director of the Illinois Comprehensive Health Insurance Plan, called the agreement "an improvement" over the original Senate bill.

"To that extent, it's a positive for Illinois," Sullivan said.

Illinois has 1.7 million uninsured and 17,000 participants in its two high-risk health insurance pools. More than 64 percent of the cost of medical treatment is paid by insurance premiums, while the remainder comes from state funds or assessments on the insurance industry.

The compromise bill is expected to pass the full Senate soon and to be approved by the House. A House-Senate conference won't be necessary because House and Senate committee leaders have already OK'd the agreement, Durbin's aides said.

Under existing law, the federal funds were based on the number of uninsured people in each state, a formula that benefited large states such as Illinois.

The compromise directs that 40 percent of the funding would be divided equally among all states, with 30 percent distributed to certain states based on the numbers of uninsured and 30 percent distributed based on the number of people in the state's high-risk pools, Durbin aides said.

The original Senate bill would have given 50 percent of the available funds to all states, 25 percent according to the number of uninsured and 25 percent based on the number of people in the state's high-risk pools.

The House bill would give one-third to each of those three categories. Illinois would have received $3.8 million under the House formula.