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Health reform bill disappoints

As a bill backed by health reform advocates to establish a state insurance exchange languishes in committee, a version supported by the insurance industry is moving through the Illinois House — and one longtime advocate wonders why Illinois Democrats are carrying water for the insurers.

The House Insurance Committee approved a measure Wednesday creating a study commission to recommend legislation to establish an exchange. The measure, backed by House Speaker Michael Madigan, includes language previously approved by the House and adds a series of preemptions that advocates say will undercut the effectiveness of health reform.

With the original legislation, the fear was that the insurance industry would dominate the study group and consumer and small business voices would be marginalized.

The new version includes provisions restricting the size of small businesses that could participate, and would create separate pools for individuals and small businesses, limiting economies of scale and bargaining power.

Other provisions would bar the state from adding mandates for insurance coverage beyond what the government establishes, and continue taxpayer subsidies that were to be dropped – amounting to $30 million to $35 million a year – for the state’s high risk pool, where insurers can dump patients with chronic illnesses whom they don’t want to cover.

One upshot would likely be significant reductions in cost savings, said Jim Duffett of the Campaign for Better Health Care.

He thinks the insurers are trying to sabotage health reform.  “The industry hopes that Obama loses next year and the Senate goes Republican and they can take health reform apart little by little.”

As for the legislative sponsors, he’s a bit nonplussed.  “These are Democrats,” he said. “They’re supposed to care about consumers and consumer protection, not the interests of the insurance industry.”

CBHC is calling on legislators to defeat the current measure, now listed as SB 1555.  The group backs another bill, SB 1729, which reflects a consensus negotiated earlier this year by insurance, consumer, business and health industry representatives meeting with the state’s Department of Insurance.  It’s stalled in the Senate Assignments Committee.

“It’s unfortunate the legislature is ignoring six months of stakeholder meetings and expert testimony about how to come up with the best plan this year to set up a competitive system – and adding this bad preemptive policy language,” said Brian Imus of Illinois PIRG.

“I hope that lawmakers pushing this legislation will give an equal opportunity for consumer advocates and small businesses to raise their issues,” he added.

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