Insuring Illinois’ kids

Middle-class families still stuck in the middle

 
 

Liz DeCarlo

The news isn’t good. A simple trip to the dentist has turned into a discussion on braces, and my mind is reeling as I try to do the math of entering the world of orthodontics with no dental insurance.

This was going to be the year we finally had enough money to pay for the surgery to repair my 10-year-old daughter’s perforated eardrum. Now we are going to have to choose between fixing Anthony’s and Emma’s teeth or fixing Emma’s eardrum—an impossible choice.

But it’s the kind of choice my husband and I face too often. My family is self-insured and little of our children’s health care is covered. Every illness turns into a financial dilemma.

But I have hope. I’ve been following Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich’s plan to insure all Illinois children. The plan, All Kids, starts this month and is designed for families like mine who earn too much to qualify for government insurance for low-income families, but not enough to afford thousands per year in health insurance.

The idea behind All Kids is to help middle-income families such as mine who struggle to afford health insurance for their children by allowing us to pay reasonable monthly premiums based on income levels.

All Kids covers general and mental health, including vision and dental—and my family could desperately use help in all those areas. With two children in glasses—one whose prescription has changed twice this year—and two children with chronic illnesses not covered under our current health care plan, medical bills are burying us. I thought All Kids was an answer to our prayers.

I was wrong. Families who have sacrificed to buy insurance will get no relief.

This plan is meant to help families in my income range, but only those who have been without insurance for the last six months. When I called the governor’s press office for clarification, I was told a family that currently has insurance obviously could afford it. Therefore, families like mine weren’t a priority.

We’ve worked 12-hour days to pay for an insurance plan that covers next to nothing. We’ve gone without time and again. If we had risked everything—including our children’s health—and just not bothered with insurance for the past six months, would our worries be over?

It wasn’t always this way for my family. Three years ago, my husband had a successful career as a sales vice president for a local company, with an insurance program that covered everything, including all the ultrasounds and tests for my third child who was born with one malfunctioning and one non-functioning kidney.

Dealing with a seriously ill child is tough, and we were fortunate that we never had to worry about paying for all the doctor and hospital visits.

But when the economy tanked, my husband was laid off. I was fortunate enough to find work after being a stay-at-home mom for nine years but the 25 to 30 hours per week didn’t qualify me for the company’s insurance plan. We were left paying more than $1,000 a month to continue insurance through COBRA—the government’s health care program for employees who lose their jobs. When that insurance ended and no job was in sight, my husband and I spent hours on the phone trying to find an insurance company.

As soon as we filled out the forms, we were turned down—two of our three children have asthma and two have mental illnesses. Twice we found companies to insure us, but the cost doubled within months. Our current insurance is $1,200 a month and covers no mental health visits or prescriptions, which costs us hundreds each month. My son’s recent MRI—almost $3,000—not covered. The antibiotic for my daughter’s ear infection, another $70.

We’re not the only family caught in a financial vise because of health care. And while I applaud the governor’s step to fix America’s current health care mess, this program does nothing for families who own their own small businesses.

We are the backbone of America’s free-enterprise system and health insurance is killing us—27 million small business owners and their families currently can’t afford any health insurance at all, much less pay the thousands I’m paying. Where is the relief?

I’m glad the governor has figured out that all children in Illinois need to be insured. They do.

I just wish he had created a program that doesn’t leave so many of us still wondering if we can afford to take our child to the hospital for the next asthma attack—even when we know we can’t afford not to.

Starting this month, Illinois will offer affordable health insurance for all kids ages 18 and under. While there is no income eligibility requirement, children must have been uninsured for at least six months to qualify.

The program requires parents to pay monthly premiums, co-payments for prescription drugs and doctor visits—all on a sliding scale based on family size and income.

For information or to enroll in All Kids, visit www.allkidscovered.com, or call (866) ALL-KIDS (255-5437), TTY: (877) 204-1012.

 

Liz DeCarlo is a part-time associate editor and writer for Chicago Parent. She lives with her family in Darien.

 
 





 
 
 
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