Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D) will unveil a proposal Thursday to subsidize health insurance for 253,000 uninsured children in Illinois, a move that specialists describe as more far-reaching than any other program in the country.
Seventy-percent of the state's uninsured children belong to families that earn $40,000 to $80,000 a year -- too much to qualify for government programs but often too little to afford private insurance.
Under Blagojevich's All Kids proposal, endorsed by the leaders of both houses of the state legislature, a family of four earning $40,000 to $59,000 would pay $40 per month per child and $10 per doctor visit.
If the measure becomes law, the Blagojevich administration hopes to enroll 50,000 children the first year at a cost of $45 million.
"Who is falling through the cracks?" asked Barry Maram, director of the Department of Healthcare and Family Services. "The people at poverty levels are often covered, and the people who are making a relatively substantial income are covered through their employer or health insurance they've obtained."
Diane Rowland, who studies the uninsured for the Kaiser Family Foundation, credited Blagojevich with making health coverage a "huge priority."
Other states, including Massachusetts, have talked of extending health care to all children but would not provide as much coverage, according to Blagojevich's office.
The numbers of uninsured remains high in Illinois, despite the fact that 370,000 more people have health insurance now than when Blagojevich took office in 2003. One in eight children in Cook County, home to Chicago, has no health coverage. The proportion in far southern Illinois is higher.
"Our plan is based on a very simple principle: Everyone needs health care, and every child should have a way to get the care they need," said Blagojevich, who is expected to run for a second term next year.