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Tuesday, April 23

Gapers Block

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Eventually, government is going to get to the point in this country where politicians will be afraid to ever introduce any piece of helpful legislation, ever.

"Oh," say the self-appointed cynics in the press, all too eager to resurrect Royko, "he's only introducing this legislation to try to make life a little better for his constituents so they'll vote for him. What a HACK!"

Well, what the hell are politicians supposed to do? Aren't they supposed to try to make progress?

Governor Rod Blagojevich, himself beset by all sorts of problems, has created a maelstrom in Springfield with his introduction of AllKids, a program that would cover "the rest" of Illinois children, the nearly 255,000 kids in our state who have no health coverage safety net if they ever get sick. Think about that for a second: one quarter of a million little kids in Illinois, who are going to go on to be the adults of Illinois, have absolutely no access to any medical help if they fall ill, if they break something, if they contract something — so they're running around, getting sicker, spreading disease, easily treatable sicknesses festering and growing worse inside their bodies, possibly developing into permanent problems that will plague them and drain their money and productivity and happiness for the rest of their lives. One quarter of a million children — children — in Illinois can't get help if they're sick.

This is because they aren't "the poor," as that term is classically (or bureaucratically) defined, and, obviously, they aren't the well-to-do, or even the merely fortunate, who have some kind of coverage or other. No, their parents work and make too much to be covered by Medicaid, but have the kinds of jobs (self-employed, contractual, multiple minimum wage, etc.) that don't provide health insurance. When did it become OK for us to just shrug it off with a "tough luck"? What is keeping the parents of these kids from devolving, from finding a lower-paying job or just quitting their gig and going on the dole? It isn't the government's job to artificially "be" the market, but what the government does now on healthcare — only for the poorest, and tax favors to the richest — actually is worse for the market than if they did nothing, because it disincentivizes greater productivity.

Let me put that simply: what we got going on now is ass-backwards.

Americans are increasingly of the mind that healthcare is a basic human right. It is a very simple progression, and I'll show it to you:

People who have healthcare are more productive --> Higher productivity is a desirable trait of a labor market --> Lack of access to healthcare depresses markets in the long run --> The current system of healthcare distribution is wildly inefficient --> We have the resources to afford healthcare for every man, woman, and child --> Therefore it is desirable for business and individuals that all people have access to healthcare, and in fact not providing it is functionally withholding it.

Resources for Healthcare + Increased Productivity as a Result of Good Healthcare = Universal Healthcare.

I'm not quite sure if there's a simpler way for me to spell it out, although I've been trying to sketch a bright-eyed bunny rabbit hugging a stethoscope for the last 20 minutes or so.

Anyway. Governor Blagojevich's plan is the first of its kind in the country. It will basically ensure that every single individual below the age of 18 in the state of Illinois will have government-subsidized healthcare, no matter what. Whether covered by KidCare or S-CHIP or Medicaid or private plans, there will be healthcare for all (kids).

This puts Illinois ahead of the rest of the nation — years ahead — and makes us a model of what a blue state can do when it turns its back on the reactionaries in Washington, D.C. and really makes an effort to improve lives.

Of course, the reactionaries in Springfield weren't too keen on Blagojevich's plan, and several editorial boards turned against him, too. The Republicans accused him of raiding pensions to pay for the plan, which is completely unfounded; the editorial boards accused him of playing politics. I think the governor is really between a rock and a hard place on that one — I mean, he is a politician after all. Should he not introduce good legislation because he doesn't want to be accused of playing politics? I don't get it.

The reality is, the Republicans and the Bosses they serve are scared of this piece of legislation not only because once it takes off it could become the single greatest juggernaut issue in electoral politics since slavery, but also because it will annihilate the image of progressives that reactionaries have tried so hard to reinforce: elites who only care about the poor because they like to feel superior. In Illinois anyway, a successful AllKids program could mean permanent minority status for the current minority party.

Indeed, the vote on AllKids in late October split across party lines. With the amount of cash the governor has, and a decided need to hold on to a Democratic majority in Springfield, he has the resources to bully that vote into an issue.

Greg Blankenship of the conservative front organization the Illinois Policy Institute shrugs off the political potency of AllKids, pointing to exit polls that would indicate that health care is a "second-tier" issue, behind things like education. I hardly see how this augurs well for Republicans, since education is a staple issue for Democrats, anyway. But even given this truth, the fact of the matter is that Republican hemorrhaging in the Cook County suburbs indicates that suburban voters, who are by-and-large "education voters," are already fleeing the party. And lower-middle class working families who populate many of the towns in the collar counties in Will, Lake, McHenry and Oswego counties, many of whom would benefit from AllKids, are going to see a Democratic administration taking real steps to fix what hurts.

That is politics. That is government. Screw what the cynics say, and please, fix what hurts.

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waleeta / November 2, 2005 8:51 AM

Ahhhh...the "free market" party turns out to be a hollow reed. A lot of wind blowing right through them.

kerry / November 2, 2005 10:14 AM

If I remember correctly, Vermont created a similar plan in the late 90's ensuring everyone under 18 had medical coverage by expanding the scope of Medicaid. It was pretty big news in New England (where I was) when it happened, and Howard Dean made it a large part of his presidential campaign.
So I don't really think that Illinois is the first state to do something like this.

brian / November 2, 2005 10:41 AM

I have never understood the charge of "playing politics" when leveled against politicians. Isn't that what they are supposed to do? Isn't that what we pay them for?

Good piece. The reason many workers haven't seen salary increases is because health care coverage is soaking up any additional money companies might wish to pay their workers. It's time to start straightening out that mess, and ensuring children have coverage is a good start.

Eric / November 2, 2005 11:54 AM

Excellent article.

I have never understood why American executiveshaven't figured out, like their neighbors to the north, that universal healthcare would make their workforce more productive and would in fact be cheaper for the companies they run.

amy / November 2, 2005 12:02 PM

Actually, Illinois is the only state in the US that guarantees free vaccinations for kids. Vermont made access available - however IL has the best implementation rates.

If you're a kid - IL is the place to be.

With our current insurance system if you need to have a PPO because of your adult health problems it is cost prohibitive to claim your kid. HMO's are the way to go for pediatric care. This puts middle class families between a rock & a hard place. They end up paying an enormous amount of money for their children's doc visits but if they dropped their PPO they would not be able to see specialists for chronic conditions (i.e. heart disease, endocrine problems et al).

I don't know if Blago's plan is the best - but I think Ramsin's right, it is something and why the hell is everyone so scared of Universal Health Care? I'm sorry - if we take care of our citizens we will lower health care rates and have a more profitable economy.

Then again, I don't see health as a number so I'm an idiot.

Steve / November 2, 2005 11:35 PM

If we expanded health care, we'd have a lot more people maintaining their health rather than waiting for a small thing to become a serious problem with a high $ to treat.

Stacey / November 3, 2005 8:46 AM

It's great to see this issue covered in this forum. Lack of health insurance is a serious problem in our country and I'm glad Illinois is trying to do the right thing. However, I want to highlight something missing in this piece. The Govenor nor anyone else in the state will confirm what, if any, mental health services are covered under this plan.

Mental health treatment should be a part of any comprehensive health plan. There is a huge gap in the provision of mental health services for youth. Often, kids have to enter the juvenile justice system just to receive needed mental health treatment. The state will not specify what services will be covered under this plan which makes me guess that it will be minimal or none.

John / November 4, 2005 3:35 PM

I think it is important, on this issue, to understand the idea of rationing. People often say a (more) universal system of healthcare will create rationing, like Canada or Britain.
Two things must be realized. First, the basic tenet of economics is that resources are finite. EVERYTHING, all decisions, are in one way or another, a product of rationing.
Secondly, we employ rationing, in the form of high price, of healthcare in this country. The problem (or one of many) is that our form of rationing is WILDLY ineffecient. So, the next time someone talks about having an awful system of healthcare rationing, hit them in the nuts with aecon textbook, or, failing that, a dictionary.


About the Author(s)

Ramsin Canon covers and works in politics in Chicago. If you have a tip, a borderline illegal leak, or a story that needs to be told, contact him at .

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