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Former Presidential Aide Pushes for Health-Care Reform PDF Print E-mail
News/Features - Local News
Written by Farrah Welsh   
Tuesday, 26 April 2005 18:00
A small group of thoughtful people could change the world,” Margaret Meade once said. “Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” That’s also the belief of Progressive Action for the Common Good, but a small group was most certainly not the case at the public summit that more than 400 people attended April 16 at Augustana College.

Tom Higgins, a former Iowa state legislator and aide to President Jimmy Carter, called the attendees to action, asking them to help reform the health-care system.

“We need to draw a line in the sand and solve this problem now,” he said.

Along with his position as a state legislator and an aide to former President Carter, Higgins has been a health-care policy-maker, the president of Business for Social Responsibility, and an AIDS activist.

Higgins advocated for a health-care plan targeting the uninsured, saying that it was a shame that the wealthiest country in the world did not provide a national health-care plan, and pointing out that many of those not presently covered by health insurance are working families with children. “Numbers & Neighbors,” a report that was released by the U.S. Bureau of the Census in September 2004, stated that about 16 percent of people 64 and younger are not insured in Illinois.

“It cannot be argued that we cannot afford it,” he said, adding that 15 percent of the federal treasury pays for health care. Higgins did not, however, say how much a national health-care plan would cost.

He also did not voice support for a specific plan to reform health care, but he did cite a proposal called Healthy Illinois as an example.

The Healthy Illinois campaign is promoted by Citizen Action/Illinois. The main idea of the Healthy Illinois Campaign is to develop and pass legislation that would make quality, affordable health care available to small businesses, self-employed individuals, and all other uninsured residents.

The plan would target the 1.7 million uninsured Illinoisans and invite them to join a statewide pool. The premise of the plan is that by collecting such a large group of people, the state could negotiate premiums that are more affordable than if individuals or businesses tried to get insurance on their own. The initiative, however, would not guarantee coverage; residents would still need to be able to afford the premiums.

Healthy Illinois is more of a “gap” health-insurance reform than a universal health-care plan such as the one proposed by the Clinton administration in 1993.

The Healthy Illinois proposal was passed in mid-April by the Senate Health & Human Services Committee. Citizen Action/Illinois teamed up with Senator Debbie Halvorson (D-Crete) to sponsor the campaign, but they’re not pushing for final passage of the legislation this year.

“We’ve really brought together a neat coalition,” said Ryan Canney, organizing director of Citizen Action/Illinois. “We’ve brought together consumer groups, union groups, health groups, ... and over 600 small businesses have endorsed the plan.”

Canney also noted that the state of Maine enacted similar legislation in January 2004. The purpose of MaineCare is to cover the state’s uninsured, while MaineRxPlus only provides discounts on prescription drugs to families and individual persons who qualify. To qualify for the Maine discount-prescription program, a single person must make 350 percent of the federal poverty level or less. According to MaineToday.com, qualifying incomes are $31,400 for a single person, $42,420 for a family of two, and $64,400 for a family of four.

While being a smaller state than Illinois, Maine has seen roughly 5,000 people join the program since January of this year. One goal of the MaineCare plan is to cover most of the state’s uninsured by 2009.

Next spring the Illinois coalition will take the Healthy Illinois proposal to the full state Senate and then to the Illinois House of Representatives.

Progressive Action for the Common Good is described by organizer Cathy Bolkcom as a newly formed umbrella group of the Quad Cities progressives. (See “In the Wake of Defeat, Progressives Organize in the Quad Cities,” River Cities’ Reader Issue 522, March 30-April 5, 2005.) The next meeting of the group is on Wednesday, April 27, at 6:30 p.m. at the Unitarian Church in Davenport.

More information on Progressive Action for the Common Good can be found at (http://www.qcprogressiveaction.org).
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