Ill. governor candidates split on health care

AP News
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Posted: Nov 06, 2009 5:24 PM

Candidates for Illinois governor are split over a national health care plan with all but one Republican saying the state should opt out if it can, a position rejected by Democrats Pat Quinn and Dan Hynes.

Democrats in Washington are considering whether to include a public option _ that is, a government-managed health insurance program _ in any health care overhaul they try to pass. To make that public option more palatable to doubters, some advocates are pushing to let individual states drop out if they wish.

"If I wanted to be part of socialized medicine, I'd move to Europe," state Sen. Kirk Dillard said at a Republican gubernatorial debate Thursday in Chicago.

All but one of the seven Republican candidates running for governor have said they would want Illinois to opt out of a public option.

Former Illinois Attorney General Jim Ryan is the one exception. Ryan said he didn't know enough about the health care proposal to say what he would do, although he admits having "reservations" about the public option because of its cost.

"I don't think we have to take the best health care system in the world and turn it on its head," he said.

Quinn and Hynes said Illinoisans need access to a public health insurance program if there is one.

"I am not for any opt-out for the land of Lincoln," Quinn said. "That would be the wrong way to go."

Hynes agreed. "Clearly our Republican friends think the health care status quo is just fine. We don't," Hynes spokesman Matt McGrath said.

So far, the possibility of opting out is just that _ a possibility. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., has said the Senate's health plan will include an opt-out provision, but he hasn't provided details on how it would work.

"You need better candidates in Illinois if they are trying to make a campaign issue out of this when there isn't even legislative language yet. Frankly, I'm dumbfounded," said Alwyn Cassil, spokeswoman for the Center for Studying Health System Change, a nonpartisan research group.

Experts say a public option, if one is created, is likely to be a small part of any health care reform. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that only 2 percent of people under 65 would sign up for the public option under a plan moving forward in the U.S. House.

It's not clear what Illinois would give up if it opted out of a government-run health plan.

Potentially, Illinoisans could end up paying higher taxes associated with a health care overhaul but not gain the benefit of a government plan to use if no private insurance is available.

One Republican candidate, state Sen. Bill Brady, of Bloomington, Ill., said he would tell federal officials they can't use Illinois tax dollars for a national health care program.

"It's time someone slapped the hands of the federal government and said enough is enough," he said.

DuPage County Board chairman Bob Schillerstrom, another Republican candidate, said he would opt out because he believes government programs have higher costs and less service.

Bruce Vladeck, former head of the federal agency that oversees Medicaid and Medicare, said he doubted states that opted out would suffer _ or gain advantage.

"Other than making some of the local insurance companies feel less nervous, I don't see any benefit," Vladeck said. "It certainly wouldn't have any economic benefit."

Many unions support the public option, including the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. Anders Lindall, spokesman for AFSCME's Illinois division, called it "rank hypocrisy" for Republicans to talk about fiscal responsibility and then reject a plan projected to lower the federal deficit and reduce the health care costs plaguing the state budget.

"We're hearing pure political pandering that ignores reality and plays only to the fringe extremists of that party," Lindall said.