Blagojevich presses ahead with health insurance initiative

Published: 11/20/2007 12:05 AM

SPRINGFIELD -- Gov. Rod Blagojevich is moving ahead with a multimillion-dollar health-care program, even after lawmakers refused to approve the money and the rules for its operation.

Blagojevich said Monday he's going ahead with plans to add about 147,000 parents and caretakers to the Family Care insurance program, despite lawmakers' objections.

"I'm going to continue to do what I think is right, and that's one of the good things about being governor," Blagojevich said at a news conference in Chicago where he announced another special legislative session for next week on mass transit issues. "You can do things like this."

Some lawmakers disagree.

Last week, the legislature's Joint Committee on Administrative Rules rejected Blagojevich's proposal for operating an expanded program. Earlier in the year, lawmakers repeatedly refused to support the governor's plans to pay for the expansion.

Some legislators predict the issue will end up in another courtroom fight and most certainly aggravate already hard feelings at the state capitol.

"I don't believe this administration deserves the benefit of the doubt," said Sen. Brad Burzynski, a Clare Republican and rules committee member. "I'm thoroughly amazed by his attitude and his agency's. Never have I seen anything like this from any administration."

Blagojevich has pushed hard all year to provide affordable health-care coverage to all Illinoisans.

But the legislature has pushed back just as hard. Many lawmakers say the state can't afford such expansion, even though the goal is worthwhile.

The governor took his battle from the full legislature last week to rules committee, a 12-member panel of Republicans and Democrats.

Blagojevich pushed an emergency rule to preserve coverage for up to 20,000 parents and caretakers of children who could be dropped from a federal program and another 147,000 more through Family Care. The committee said no to the rule, calling it an end run around the legislature.

The administration wants to expand the program's income eligibility from $38,000 to almost $83,000 for a family of four.

Blagojevich responded by saying committee doesn't have the constitutional authority to block the rule, so it's moving ahead with signing up families -- at an expected cost of $43 million this year.

Members say while the commission isn't mentioned in the state constitution, state law gives it say over rulemaking. They expect a court challenge to Blagojevich's move soon.

Blagojevich already has sued lawmakers twice this year: one case has been resolved, while another over special session authority is pending.

"The legality of such actions is not the only question here," said Rep. John Fritchey, a Chicago Democrat. "The larger question is whether or not this is a manner by which to run a state."

Blagojevich spokeswoman Abby Ottenhoff said the administration doesn't intend to sue over the issue but "we believe our position is based on solid legal grounds."

A key component of any legal challenge on the health-care expansion could come down to money.

Lawmakers insist he doesn't have the authority to spend money on programs and services not approved by the legislature, but Blagojevich disagrees. He cut $480 million from the budget they sent him this summer to free up cash for health care.

"It gives me all kinds of flexibility to move it around as we have been doing," Blagojevich said. "We want to stockpile some of that money for what I think are more important priorities."

A health-care advocacy group says it is pleased expansion efforts are moving forward but says lawmakers ultimately will need to do more.

"This issue isn't about Governor Blagojevich. This isn't about JCAR," said Jim Duffett, executive director of the Campaign for Better Health Care. "The people want action, they want the General Assembly to take action on accessible, affordable health care."