Illinois: Veto Could Jeopardize Bill Granting Uninsured State Residents Discounts

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Final passage of a bill that would give Illinois residents without health insurance a discount on hospital care could be jeopardized because of an amendatory veto by Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D), the Chicago Tribune reports. The bill -- which would have guaranteed uninsured Illinoisans the "most generous discounts in the U.S.," capped their annual spending hospital care and applied to an estimated 775,000 families in the state -- passed unanimously in the House and Senate last spring after extensive negotiations with the Illinois attorney general's office.

Illinois hospitals had agreed to limit the amount it charged most uninsured patients to the actual cost plus 35%. However, Blagojevich's amendatory veto reduced that markup from 35% to 20% and specified that patients earning less than twice the poverty level and a family of four earning $42,400 or less would not pay any markup. In addition, the revision raised the qualification for hospital discounts for urban families from 600% of the federal poverty level to 800% and for rural families from 300% to 600%. Blagojevich also specified that the Illinois Department of Public Health would have the power to enforce the legislation and not the attorney general's office, as stated in the original legislation.

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According to the Tribune, Blagojevich's amendatory veto angered the Illinois Hospital Association and the legislative sponsors of the bill. The hospital association says the revision could place hospitals at a great financial risk by requiring hospitals to offer such large discounts to nearly every uninsured resident. Howard Peters, the hospital association's senior vice president of government relations, said, "This is an issue that the legislature, the attorney general, unions and the hospital association worked on for over a year," adding, "The governor's office and state agencies didn't so much as offer an opinion or participate in a single hearing -- and now they do this." State Sen. Jeffery Schoenberg (D), the bill's sponsor, said Blagojevich's switch of enforcement from the attorney general's office to the DPH "totally eliminates any meaningful enforcement capability."

The governor's press office, when asked to comment, issued a statement saying, "With these improvements, additional low-income Illinoisans and uninsured middle-income families will have the ability to receive essential medical services."

Schoenberg said, "I'll be filing the necessary motion to override the governor's veto at the first available opportunity." Overriding the veto would require a three-fifths majority in the House and Senate. The legislation would fail if it is approved by a simple majority in both houses. Rep. Karen May (D) said that, if necessary, she will reintroduce the legislation again next session (Graham, Chicago Tribune, 9/12).

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