Illegal immigrants big winners from botched Illinois health insurance program

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Blago's gift that keeps on giving

Who in his right mind would be against health insurance for every child in Illinois?

Certainly none of the politicians, health care providers, labor unions and special interests that in 2005 so enthusiastically bought into then-Gov. Rod Blagojevich's All Kids program. Certainly not tens of thousands of illegal immigrants, the major beneficiaries of the program. From Citizen Action/Illinois to the Illinois Hospital Association, from the Chicago Teachers Union to the Peruvian Cultural Center, they all hailed it as some kind of nirvana.

They were wrong. Now, five years later, All Kids has turned into just another government botch of a program that has failed to meet expectations. Except for its costs. Those, of course, wildly exceeded expectations. And helped state finances circle the drain.

At least that's one way to view a recent, but insufficiently noticed, audit of All Kids by Illinois Auditor General William G. Holland. Compare the reality with what was promised when Blagojevich signed the law.

We were told All Kids would:

•Provide comprehensive health coverage for 253,000 uninsured Illinois children. In fact, in fiscal 2009 it covered 94,525.

•Protect working and middle-class families, as Blagojevich put it: "... who are doing everything they're supposed to do -- working hard, paying their taxes," but can't afford health insurance. Well yes, but the vast majority are illegal immigrants, who aren't doing at least one thing they're supposed to do -- obey the law.

•Cost $45 million "in the first year." In 2009 its gross cost reached about $79 million.

•Be partially funded by low monthly premiums charged to families. In fact, premiums paid in fiscal 2009 totaled less than $9 million, leaving the state's net cost at $70 million. None of it qualifies for federal reimbursement (because the family income is more than 200 percent of poverty), so Illinois taxpayers pick up the entire net cost.

That's just the start of the problems.

The audit also found: Coverage is not always terminated when premiums are not paid, as required by the state administration code. The state Department of Human Services does not properly calculate family income to determine if the family is eligible for coverage. Annual reviews of family eligibility are inadequate. Other possible sources of family income were not checked. Controls were lacking to keep out-of-state children off the rolls and to ensure that children were not enrolled more than once. Marketing to gin up enrollees was originally expected to cost $3 million, but payments, based on questionable billing, ballooned to more than $8 million. The beneficiary was the Democrat-connected firm GMMB. Record keeping was so messy that the Department of Healthcare and Family Services needed 11 days to answer a simple yes or no question: Had it submitted copies of its contracts to the General Assembly as required by law?

In sum, All Kids is serving only about a third of its intended beneficiaries at about twice the estimated cost. Because of these and other failures, Holland said the audit did not attempt to determine what the real costs would be if All Kids had been run properly.

Beyond the bureaucratic muddle, blame Blagojevich and the Democratic-controlled legislature for perhaps the biggest problem with the law: Its cheap, comprehensive health care is a magnet for illegal immigrants to come to Illinois. According to the audit, about 75 percent of All Kids enrollees are classified as illegal immigrants. The cost of covering them comes to almost $55 million. This, it will be pointed out, is a drop in the bucket in a state budget that is running up an astonishing $13 billion deficit.

But, this is how huge deficits are run up. Promising all comers benefits that can't be delivered. Making a hash out of government programs that never should have been established in the first place. Exaggerating needs for political gain. Letting emotions dictate public policy. Letting ideology obscure reality.

By everything rational, the state ought to be taking a critical look at All Kids, re-evaluating its premises, workability and costs. But little about Illinois and its budget is rational. More so, when it comes to anything involving illegal immigration.

This column also appeared in the Chicago Tribune.

Comments

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  • Surprise, surprise. All government programs are created for political reasons, are inefficient and wasteful. As P. J. O'Rourke would say, "Politics is the problem". The voters apparently respond to buzz words like "money for education" and "we are going to provide everyone with free high quality healthcare". Yeah, right.
    These are the same voters and policticians who supported and elected a sociopath govenor TWICE. The future for Illinois is not bright.

  • and AGAIN,a program ripe with waste and fraud.when i stop singing kumbiya i'll begin to feel all fuzzy inside.i can't be sick about it because i'm still sick over the other health care program that won't work.WAKE UP FOLKS,VOTE THEM OUT. lets start over anmd stop funding all these wasteful programs.

  • The road to heaven and hell and all points in between is paved with good intenstions. Despite its origins in Blago's administration (which lends some scent of political opportunism), I will bet that many people who genuinely care about child health were involved in the program's inception and subsequent administration. We can't seem to get child health right in this country. Recently released data show that, by all standard measures of child health, the U.S. ranks way down the list at the level of Sierra Leone. That isn't a recent phenomenon; the U.S. has been way down the list for decades.

    Whatever the reasons for All Kids limited success, its failures make it no different than multiple failed programs over past decades. We know we have a problem with child health and we keep trying to do something about it. We just can't get it right.

  • just remember that you can't regulate anything as long as the government is involved.they are the oversight and never seems to get that part down. watch how expensive a program gets when things are free

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