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Governor starts expanding health care for young adults
Associated Press
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Published: 8/31/200 12:28 AM

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Gov. Rod Blagojevich outlined part of his plan Thursday to expand the state's health insurance coverage for sick or injured young adults without approval from Illinois lawmakers.

All Kids Bridge would cover people ages 19 through 21. Currently, medical insurance through All Kids ends on an enrollee's 19th birthday.

"Because we couldn't get some legislators to support this, I'm acting unilaterally to expand health care," Blagojevich said, flanked by potential enrollees at La Rabida Children's Hospital in Chicago. "If the legislature won't do it, I'm going to do it."

All Kids Bridge will cost the state up to $20 million a year and cover about 7,000 people, said Michael McRaith, director of insurance for the Illinois Department of Financial and Regulation. The state will look for eligible participants immediately, with coverage beginning within months, he said.

Money for All Kids Bridge will come from cutting waste and "pork" projects from the budget, Blagojevich said Thursday, although his aides previously have said new health spending would come from shifting money and controlling costs in existing programs.

Blagojevich said his new spending does not require approval from the General Assembly because he is changing eligibility rules for existing programs rather than creating new ones But his rule changes probably will have to go to a legislative committee, giving lawmakers a chance to block his actions.

Illinois Sen. Kwame Raoul, a Chicago Democrat, praised the governor's actions at Thursday's news conference.

"I'm willing to take the not-so-popular position of standing by the governor," Raoul said, prompting laughter from the crowd.

Blagojevich's announcement is the latest in a budget standoff between the governor and the state lawmakers.

In March, Blagojevich proposed the largest tax increase in state history to fund an ambitious agenda on health care, education and debt reduction. That launched months of bickering with lawmakers, who did not share his fervor for health care or his interest in a major business tax.

All Kids Bridge is part of the agenda, which also includes include subsidies for families struggling to pay for health insurance, coverage for poor adults who don't qualify for Medicaid and cancer screenings for every uninsured woman.

Unable to agree, officials let the old budget expire July 31. The Democratic governor cut $463 million from the budget before signing it into law last week.

He insisted his cuts, which could still be reversed by lawmakers, were intended to help people by cutting wasteful spending.