Welcome to the Illinois Health Matters Blog

Welcome to the Illinois Health Matters Blog. Our blog discusses various topics around how health care reform is affecting the people of Illinois. We present a variety of different perspectives from health care experts, both from our state, and nationally. For more information please visit IllinoisHealthMatters.org.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

In Short: SCOTUS and the ACA

For three days this week, the Supreme Court of the United States heard oral arguments on the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. The case against the ACA is broken up into four main arguments, primarily on the constitutionality of the Individual Mandate and Medicaid Expansion. The historic health law case has made a splash across Capitol Hill and beyond; and the responses range from adversarial to insightful to amusing and back:

The New York Times profiles Jonathan Gruber, the M.I.T. professor responsible for the academic research and number-crunching behind the ACA’s individual mandate.

CommonHealth’s Carey Goldberg talks with Kevin Outterson, director of Boston University’s Health Law Program and a frequent contributor to the Incidental Economist, on the court hearing, and then turns the conversation into a humorous animated video.

AHIP compiled various independent studies on the negative impact of severing the Individual Mandate from the ACA in this infographic.

For those who want to go straight to the source, download the audio recordings and transcripts of the oral arguments from March 26th, March 27th and March 28th.

The Supreme Court will announce its decision by the end of June, at which point, the bill will be handed back to Congress. Will this Congress, notoriously unable to come to agreement across party lines, be up to the challenge? The Hill Health Watch reports.

No matter what happens, Illinois Health still Matters; the State will be transitioning Medicaid into managed care, providers will be challenged to develop new payment models, and we still need to innovate to effectively serve vulnerable populations in tough fiscal times.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

The Supreme Court Challenge to the ACA

From March 26 to 28, 2012, the United States Supreme Court will hear arguments in Florida, et al., v. Department of Health and Human Services, et al., the historic challenge to the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act brought by the attorneys general of 26 states and the National Federation of Independent Businesses. No case has been allotted this much time for argument since the 19th century.

Since the Affordable Care Act was enacted in March 2010, dozens of legal cases have been filed against the law. Most cases have been dismissed on procedural grounds. Of the small number of cases that have gotten past procedural hurdles, four cases have reached the Courts of Appeals.

Of those cases, three courts have rejected challenges to the law (the Sixth Circuit and the DC Circuit upheld the law entirely, and the Fourth Circuit found the challenge to be premature under the Anti-Injunction Act). However, in the Eleventh Circuit, in a case brought by the attorneys general of 26 states and the National Federation of Independent Businesses, the court found the personal responsibility provision to be unconstitutional. However, that court left the rest of the law in place and specifically found the Medicaid expansion constitutional.

The federal government has appealed the decision striking down the personal responsibility provision. The states and National Federation of Independent Businesses have appealed the parts of the decision that upheld the Medicaid expansion and that left the rest of the law in place. No party is arguing that the case against the personal responsibility provision is premature under the Anti-Injunction Act—the Supreme Court has decided on its own to consider that question.

The Campaign for Better Health Care hopes that the justices fully consider the legal precedents that have already been set in similar cases and find that the law is constitutional. We want to see this law given the full stamp of approval of the highest court in the land so that instead of wasting time playing politics around the Affordable Care Act, lawmakers move ahead to implement it.

The central questions here are: What kind of a country do we want to live in? What values do we have as Americans? This isn't a policy debate, it is a philosophical one. The arguments at the core of it are "you're on your own" versus "taking personal responsibility for the common good of your family and America." Our nation was built on the ideals of personal responsibility and working for the common good of our country. Those are the ideals that Obamacare promotes.

The Affordable Care Act protects and offers all Americans the opportunity to obtain quality, affordable health care. People like the consumer protections in the law. They do not want to give up the vital protections that the Affordable Care Act provides them and go back to being at the mercy of insurance companies. Striking down the Affordable Care Act would take away protections that Americans already have or are about to gain, including:

* rules already prohibiting insurers from denying coverage to people, including children, with pre-existing conditions

* tax credits that are already helping small businesses provide coverage to their employees

* rules prohibiting insurers from canceling coverage when people get sick

* rules prohibiting insurers from dropping young adults from their parents’ coverage

* rules prohibiting insurers from imposing annual or lifetime caps on coverage

* improved prescription drug coverage and preventive benefits for seniors and people with disabilities who rely on Medicare

The Affordable Care Act is constitutional, having already been upheld by multiple courts, including by leading conservative judges. If the Supreme Court follows existing precedent, it will uphold the law. Three separate Circuit Courts of Appeal have rejected challenges to the law, with two of these decisions including opinions written by leading conservative judges.

The law is constitutional because Congress has broad authority to regulate interstate commerce. This authority comes from the Constitution’s commerce clause and necessary and proper clause and has been undisputed in Supreme Court rulings dating back at least 75 years. Legal precedent has been well established in this case, so let's move on already.

The Affordable Care Act is fair. The personal responsibility provision is a common-sense rule that will ultimately affect about 1 percent of Americans, and the 83 percent of Americans who already have health insurance (for example, through their jobs or through Medicare) will not be affected by it. Most people without health insurance want coverage but cannot get it, either because they cannot afford it or they are denied it due to their pre-existing conditions. The Affordable Care Act makes coverage affordable and eliminates exclusions for pre-existing conditions. When these people get coverage, they will not be subject to the penalty either.

It is estimated that, at most, 1 percent of the population will refuse to buy coverage and will not qualify for an exemption (for example, for religious reasons or economic hardship). These people should pay their fair share and get coverage before they get sick; waiting until they get sick to get coverage only shifts the cost of their care onto everyone else.

All big changes to our national priorities and policies generate opposition. The Social Security Act in the 1930s and Medicare and the Civil Rights Act in the 1960s were bitterly attacked at the time they were passed. The Social Security Act and Civil Rights Act were even declared unconstitutional by lower courts before the Supreme Court upheld them. Now these laws are part of the fabric of American society. The same will happen with the Affordable Care Act.

Jim Duffett
CBHC Executive Director

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About the Campaign for Better Health Care

We believe that accessible, affordable, quality health care is a basic human right for ALL people. The Campaign for Better Health Care is the state’s largest coalition representing over 300 diverse organizations, organizing to help create and advocate for an accessible, quality health care system for all. For more information, visit www.cbhconline.org.

Preview: Medicaid and the Supreme Court

Tomorrow the United States Supreme Court will be in its third day of arguments about the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Tomorrow's argument will focus not on the Individual Mandate (which has gotten the most press and political rhetoric) but on challenges to the constitutionality of the Medicaid expansion that will take place in 2014.

Under the ACA, Medicaid coverage will be expanded to any adult with an income at or below 133% of the Federal Poverty level, making low income levels the primary qualification for the program. In Illinois, alone, the Medicaid Expansion will impact 610,000 people. The Federal government will provide funding to cover 100% of the expansion costs for the first three years and 90% thereafter.

The primary argument against the constitutionality of the Medicaid expansion is that the expansion is unlawfully coercive. The plaintiffs argue that the 100% federal funding offered to states for the expansion is so advantageous that states must choose to continue to participate in the Medicaid program. 

Medicaid is, and always has been, voluntary to states. The funding offered for the expansion is not a new idea for Medicaid which has always involved government funding. Historically, the Federal government has funded a substantial percentage of each state’s Medicaid program, ranging from 50-83% of states’ costs and, on occasion, 100% of certain expenditures. Due to the vagueness and lack of legal precedent regarding what is “coercive,” this argument may be difficult to prove to the Supreme Court. 

A secondary argument is that the expansion, in tandem with other parts of the ACA law, creates changes that are extreme to the point of revolutionizing Medicaid. The Plaintiffs argue that the minimum essential coverage requirements outlined in the ACA render State participation in Medicaid indispensable thus turning Medicaid into “a program to provide a minimum level of coverage to every needy person.”

The Defendants counter that, Medicaid is not the only source of coverage for low-income individuals; they may also receive coverage via Medicare, Veteran’s Assistance benefits, other types of government funded care (such as ICHIP or IPXP in Illinois), or through an employer-provided insurance plan. Also, many individuals who would become eligible for Medicaid in 2014 may not be subject to the individual mandate due to their low income and non-taxpayer status. 

Finally, just as participation in Medicaid is voluntary to States, enrollment is voluntary for individuals. This argument also reflects a weak understanding of Medicaid. From its inception, Congress has reserved the right to make changes to the Medicaid program. None of these changes, however, have changed the core features of the program. Instead, these changes have followed a path that leads logically to the reforms called for in the expansion. Minimum coverage offered by a state has gradually expanded over time as criteria for certain low-income populations such as pregnant women, children and adults with a disability and elderly adults were put in place. The types of services covered have increased such as expansions to home- and community-based services that keep beneficiaries out of institutions.  Many of these reforms began as options, and were then converted into requirements for states’ participation in the program. 

A final piece of the Plaintiff’s argument claims that Medicaid is already too large of a program, and that the expansion will cause it to become too much of a financial burden on states. The Defendants counter that the size of a state’s Medicaid program is controlled, in large part, by the state itself. The Federal government creates the baseline requirements for a state’s Medicaid program, but also allows—and funds—many optional programs and experimental demonstration projects that allow each state to best serve the needs of the population. Many states have created programs that go well beyond the federal baseline. In fact, a large part of all Medicaid spending is on these programs—in Fiscal Year 2007, it comprised 60.4% of all Medicaid expenditures.

For more information about the argument to uphold the Medicaid expansion, see the National Health Law Program's Amicus Brief here. For transcripts and recordings of the Supreme Court's Affordable Care Act arguments, go here and here.

Stephanie Altman
Health & Disability Advocates


EDIT: 4/9/2012: For NHelp's recap of the oral arguments on the Medicaid Expansion, click here

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

See into the future of health care reform

Illinois Health Matters has released a new data visualization tool, “Visualizing Health Care Reform in 2014,” for understanding the impact of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) in Illinois. This easy-to-use, interactive tool maps the State and shows who is currently uninsured, how many of those people will become insured, and how they will access health insurance as the major provisions of the ACA go into effect in 2014.

Infographics such as “Visualizing Health Care Reform” are valuable aids for understanding complex concepts, such as the impact of health care reform. By using data to illustrate public policy outcomes, people and policymakers can make informed, data-driven decisions.

This tool is the first of its kind to illustrate the future impact of health care reform at the state level. It also gives a valuable glimpse of how crucial these reforms will be for more than 1.6 million uninsured Illinoisans through Medicaid expansion and the new state Health Care Exchange (or “Marketplace). Clearly, businesses and communities across the state have a lot of work to do to gear up to meet the potential demand.

This is just part of the story. The impact of the new health law is even more far-reaching. For every Illinoisan who will gain access to coverage via Medicaid or the Exchange in 2014, there are others who already benefit, such as the young adults who get to remain insured via their parents’ insurance until age 26 or the children and adults whose health has benefitted from the wide range of preventative care services that insurance companies are now required to cover.

For information on how the law can help you or your community now, go to Illinois Health Matters, sign up for our monthly newsletter, or ask a question. For more on the data used in this tool, go here.

Monday, March 19, 2012

The Affordable Care Act Turns 2: Help Tell the Story that #HealthCareWorks

This Friday, March 23rd marks the two-year anniversary of the Affordable Care Act. All across the country, advocacy groups will celebrate the law with educational events to help tell the story that #HealthCareWorks.

As the law heads to the Supreme Court on March 26th, we need to tell the stories of the millions of Illinois residents who are benefiting from the law. Taking away these benefits will have a disastrous impact – especially on seniors, women, young adults, children and small business owners.

Here in Illinois:
  • More than 1.3 million Illinois seniors received free preventative care including mammograms and colonoscopies in 2011.Nearly 2.4 million Illinoisans with private health insurance gained coverage of free preventative medical care with no co-pays.
  • 144,226 people on Medicare saved more than $96 million on prescription drugs because of the new law.
  • 1,962 Illinoisans who were denied health insurance now have coverage through the Pre-Existing Condition Insurance Plan.
  • A growing number of small businesses offering health insurance are taking advantage of new tax credits allowed under the law.

This week, you can help spread the word that health care works and real people would suffer if the Affordable Care Act is scaled back or repealed. Use #HealthCareWorks on Twitter to share stories and statistics that demonstrate how the law has already helped provide better care and lower costs. Write a letter to the editor. Send a message to your representatives in Congress. We can’t afford to go backwards when it comes to better, more affordable health care.

Angela Benander
Know Your Care Illinois

The State of Illinois and Medical Home Network partner for improved care coordination

Last week the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services and the Medical Home Network (MHN) announced an innovative partnership that could mean better care and lower cost of care for Medicaid beneficiaries.

MHN is one of the largest collaborations of safety net providers in the country working to deliver better coordinated care to vulnerable populations. Partnership with the State allows MHN to test promising delivery and payment innovations that impact approximately 170,000 Medicaid beneficiaries, who make up just less than 10 percent of the State’s total Primary Care Case Management (PCCM) Medicaid population and 11 percent of PCCM costs. The vast majority of these beneficiaries live on Chicago’s South and Southwest Sides, areas where healthcare is fragmented and health status is generally poor.

In addition to the State, this public-private partnership includes the second largest public health system (Cook County Health and Hospitals System), a renowned academic medical center (Rush University Medical Center), a hospital focused on chronically-ill children (La Rabida Children’s Hospital), three community hospitals, six Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHCs) and an extensive physician network.

Already, MHN has begun to implement innovative technology called MHNConnect that drives meaningful improvement in care coordination by virtually connecting disparate providers serving the population. MHNConnect, a secure, web-based portal, sends real-time alerts on patient hospital activity to Medical Homes (primary care sites) and makes historical prescription and medical claims data available to providers at the point of care. Doctors’ moments of “if I only knew” are turning into “now I know.”

MHNConnect is an enhanced version of a platform that reduced hospital admissions by 31%, ED use by 34% and increased patients’ visits to their PCP by 29% when applied to an uninsured population in California. The MHN model of care has the potential to deliver better care at a lower cost. MHNConnect and other MHN initiatives are expected to significantly improve critical transitions of care by using real-time information technology to increase the percentage of patients who follow-up with their Medical Home within seven days of a hospital stay or visit to the emergency department (ED). MHN also anticipates reducing the populations’ annual ED visits (approximately 100,000 in a 12-month period) by preventing over 3,000 avoidable visits.

During the first day MHNConnect went live, a MHN Medical Home was able to identify a patient who frequently went to the ED for asthma complications but had not visited his primary care physician or filled a medication that could keep his condition under better control. New information from MHNConnect allowed the Medical Home to identify the patient, contact him to schedule an appointment and begin to manage the patient’s condition at his Medical Home.

Within the first three weeks of using MHNConnect, care coordinators at a second Medical Home were able to successfully schedule timely follow-up appointments after Inpatient Discharges and ED visits for 93% of patients with MHNConnect hospital activity. MHN is encouraged by dramatic results such as these, as well as initial positive feedback from patients and providers.

MHNConnect and other MHN initiatives are designed to improve care coordination, a key to improving quality and reducing cost. MHN expects to reduce total cost of care by 2-4% in year one. If projected savings are realized, the MHN model could serve as a delivery framework to meet the needs of similar communities across the country.

Funded by the Comer Science and Education Foundation, MHN is currently rolling out MHNConnect to additional sites. Read more at http://www.mhnchicago.org/node/21.

Cheryl Lulias
Executive Director, Medical Home Network

                

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

What does Health Care Reform mean for Small Businesses?

Your Bottom Line: What Healthcare Reform Means for Illinois Small Businesses
March 23, 2012 11:00 AM CDT

This webinar will focus on what the new federal healthcare law, the Affordable Care Act, means for Illinois small businesses. It will include both federal and state provisions to help local small business owners understand how the law will affect them.

We are excited for you to participate because this webinar will have special opening remarks by Marianne Markowitz, Regional Administrator for the U. S. Small Business Administration in Chicago. In addition, valuable information will be provided by ACCION Chicago, the Women's Business Development Center, the Campaign for Better Health Care and the Small Business Majority.

Topics being discussed include:
• Chicago area small business resources
• Small business tax credits— who’s eligible for them and how to claim them
• Illinois health insurance exchange and on going legislation that will directly impact on small businesses access to health insurance
• Prevention and wellness
• Shared responsibility
• Cost containment
• Tools and resources available for small businesses interested in learning more about the law.

Register for the webinar here.
For more information email Joyce Harant or call 309-648-3035.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Three Major Ways the ACA helps Young Adults with Special Health Care Needs

Many children with special health care needs and their families rely on the support of state and federal government programs or benefits to allow them to get the care they need. Without this governmental support, many of these children and young adults would be unable to go to school; their parents would be unable to work, or to live healthy lives. As children transition to adulthood, many of these support systems and benefits fall away. Most of these programs are offered only to children. In order to keep getting the care they rely on, these kids must attempt to find adult programs that offer similar benefits. Due to the differences in programs, as well as differences in eligibility criteria, many of these disabled young adults end up going without much of the care they would need to become healthy, integrated members of society. Needless to say, the process of transitioning from childhood to adulthood is a complicated and confusing one.

How will the ACA change the situation of “transition-age youth”?

1. Dependent Coverage: The ACA mandates that insurance companies must let kids remain covered by their parents’ health insurance up until age 26. For disabled young adults who have insured parents, this is good news. Many children with disabilities receive health care through programs offered only to children, so when those programs come to an end typically at age 19, they lose insurance coverage. Coverage under a parent’s insurance until age 26 would give the family time to secure other insurance options for their disabled child.

2. New Insurance Purchasing Power: Starting in 2014, health insurance companies will no longer be able to deny coverage due to a pre-existing condition, a problem that has caused many issues for transition-age youth with a history of pre-existing conditions looking to purchase insurance.. Additionally, the state health benefits exchanges will begin operations in 2014. These exchanges are predicted to create a consumer-friendly marketplace for individuals and families to purchase insurance options. Tax credits will be offered to citizens between 133-400% of the Federal Poverty Level, in order to offset the costs of plan premiums. So, a transition-age youth or the family of a disabled child looking to purchase insurance will have new consumer powers and protections to aid in doing so.

3. An Expanded Safety Net: The Medicaid expansion will begin January 1, 2014. Under the expansion, all adults with income below 133% of the federal poverty level will become eligible for Medicaid benefits. Often, children who are eligible for Medicaid due to a disability as a child are no longer eligible when judged by the different disability criteria that are applied to adults. The expansion will allow many disabled transition-age youth to keep their Medicaid benefits, regardless of their disability status.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

CBHC Statewide Conference Call: Monday, March 12

Please register to join us for the Campaign for Better Health Care's next Statewide Conference Call: "We See What You Are Doing, and We Are Not Pleased: The Right's Attack on Women's Health" on Monday, March 12, 12 pm CST

The right has launched a series of blistering attacks on women's health care: within the past two weeks alone, we've seen their efforts to reduce access to contraception, to mandate unnecessary transvaginal ultrasound procedures for women seeking abortions, to slash funding for reproductive health clinics, and to demonize and defund organizations that provide women's reproductive health services, like Planned Parenthood. These ideological attacks are not just mere politics as usual from the right; they are a means to their true end game, destroying the Affordable Care Act.

On March 26, the Supreme Court will begin hearings on the constitutionality of the personal responsibility clause of the Affordable Care Act. Personal responsibility for the common good means that because everyone has insurance, no one gets to rig the system, everyone has equal skin in the game, and no one rides for free, including the insurance industry. It means that people can't enter the insurance pool only when they become sick, thereby draining the pool of dollars they haven't paid in previously. Making sure everyone pays equally so they can benefit equally is the only way we can keep a system of social insurance going. The opposition's argument against the personal responsibility clause of the Affordable Care Act is their argument against social insurance: how dare anyone force them to pay their fair share and take away their ability to rip the system off and raise costs for everyone else?

The attack on women's rights is not just about addressing health disparities for women, but gives us the opportunity in Illinois to fix racial disparities, income disparities, and other disparities in our current health care system. In building a competitive health care marketplace (insurance exchange) that addresses the disparities, we begin to take the necessary steps to correct them across the board. Women did not want this fight, but it was brought and we will win it by using this opportunity to build a health care system that provides quality, affordable health care for ALL.

Please join us on Monday, March 12 with our special guests Brigid Leahy, Director of Legislative Affairs at Planned Parenthood of Illinois and a spokesperson from the National Women's Law Center, to talk about the recent attacks on women's health and how they fit into the larger strategy of balancing the inequalities in our current system of health care.

Call Agenda
- CBHC Executive Director Jim Duffett updates us on the status of Illinois' Marketplace (the insurance exchange.)
- CBHC Communications Organizer Kathleen Duffy will give an overview of communications plans for the anniversary of the Affordable Care Act on March 23, and for the Supreme Court hearings March 26-28.
- Our guest speakers will discuss the benefits of the Affordable Care Act for women, connect the dots about how attacks on women's health is really an attack on the Affordable Care Act itself, and describe how our efforts to build equity into Illinois' marketplace are good for women, minorities, and everyone.
- And as always, your questions and comments for all our speakers, taken and answered.

The Statewide Conference Call Series is a free resource for advocates presented by the Campaign for Better Health Care. Please visit this link to register and join us on Monday, March 12. Your questions for our speakers can be submitted ahead of time as well!

Friday, March 2, 2012

The Affordable Care Act: Fulfilling Promises, Cutting Costs

Did you know that the Affordable Care Act has alreadyexpanded affordable preventive health coverage to 54 million Americans?

If you’ve been following the Shriver Brief health care blogs, you probably remember reading about the Affordable Care Act mandate that insurance companies provide a specified list ofpreventive health care services to policy holders without charging a co-payment or deductible. Services like screenings for blood pressure and cholesterol; testing for Type 2 diabetes, obesity, and colorectal cancer; and alcohol and tobacco cessation counseling, among others are included in the mandate. Additional preventive health services like childhood immunizations; screenings for hearing, vision, and oral health; as well as testing for autism, HIV, and obesity, among others must be provided free of co-payment for children’s care. And starting in August of this year, insured women will be able to receive a set of women’s preventive health benefits like well-woman visits, FDA-approved contraception, mammograms, breastfeeding support and supplies, and domestic violence screening and counseling, also without cost-sharing. The health reform law requires that all of these free preventive health services are provided by insurance companies for anybody with a new or a so-called “non-grandfathered” insurance plan. And the mostrecent research shows that people—tens of millions of people—are already receiving these preventive services, for free!

According to a study conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation, “31% of all workers were covered by plans that expanded their list of covered preventive services due to the Affordable Care Act.” Using this data, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) was able to calculate just how many people are benefiting from expanded preventive health coverage across the country.HHS estimates that 54 million Americans—and counting—have received one or more of the Affordable Care Act’s mandated preventive health services free of co-payment or cost-sharing. This number breaks down to over 20 million women, 14 million children, and 19.5 million men making use of their increased access to affordable and essential preventive health care. Illinois was among the top five states to benefit the most, with almost 2.4 million Illinois residents receiving free preventive health care services! And this number will only continue to grow as more and more people choose to enroll in new or “non-grandfathered” health plans, and as the health reform lawrolls out its final stages in 2014, adding 16 million individuals to the private health insurance market.

These kinds of meaningful, money-saving provisions in the Health Reform law are making a real impact at a time of need, when many individuals and families affected by the recession have been resorting to cutting back on basic medical care to make ends meet. A Kaiser Family Foundation study conducted in 2009 found that 53 percent of American families were cutting back on medical care because of the cost. In 2010, the Commonwealth Fund reported that 25 percent of Americans were cutting back on recommended tests like blood pressure tests, colonoscopies, mammograms, and other potentially life-saving cancer screenings. And just recently, a study from the University of North Carolina’s medical school found that, during the height of the recession, adults between the ages of 50 and 64 received 500,000 fewer colonoscopies compared to the couple of years before the economy turned, even though the colonoscopies can cut the risk of dying from colon cancer in half. The good news is the Affordable Care Act is increasing access to many of these preventive health tests and screenings at a price Americans can afford.

Households all over the country are pinching pennies trying to stay afloat during hard economic times. Thank you, Affordable Care Act, for working diligently to make sure that nobody’s health is sacrificed because of the cost of care.

Coauthored by Caitlin Padula and Rachel Gielau.
This post was originally published as part of The Shriver Brief's weekly “Did You Know” blog series, which highlights important, but not well known features of the health reform law about prevention, wellness, and personal responsibility for our health.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Using Technology to Connect in New Ways in Illinois

According to the Pew Internet & American Life Project, 85% of all Americans 18 years and older own a cell phone; of these users, nearly a quarter (72%) of them “text”. A July 2011 report shows that nearly one-third of all adults are “smart phone” users.
Given that these statistics are only likely to increase as technology becomes more advanced and allows us to get information in even smaller and more portable devices, it’s important to consider how technology help in efforts to share important and relevant information, as well as connect individuals with services that fit their needs.
For the past two years, Text4baby, the first ever FREE mobile health service, has been using cell phones to share health tips with pregnant women and new moms. Moms sign up by texting BABY to 511411 (or BEBE to 511411 to receive messages in Spanish) to receive helpful messages that are timed to their due date or baby’s first birthday. These messages include reminders about check-ups, immunizations, oral health, and tips for good nutrition.
We here at the Illinois Maternal and Child Health Coalition serve as the statewide coordinator  and have been working with health departments, community clinics, doctors’ offices, as well as local businesses to promote text4baby. To date, we’ve helped enroll nearly 13,000 users into text4baby and have made FREE outreach materials available for order from our website. We’ve heard firsthand from text4baby users about how direct and simple the messages are and how helpful they can be, especially for first-time parents.
Of the many useful messages provided by text4baby, several of them provide users with information about how they can get no-cost or low-cost health insurance for their children by providing them with the toll-free hotline 1-877-KIDS-NOW (1-877-543-7669).
Parents who call the 1-877-KIDS-NOW number in Illinois will be connected with the All Kids program, which provides affordable health insurance to children who live in Illinois and meet income requirements. Parents can request an All Kids paper application to be sent to their address or they can fill out the online application.
Nearly 1.7 million children in Illinois benefit from the All Kids program, which covers doctor visits, prescription drugs, hospital and emergency services, dental and vision care, and more. Some parents may qualify for FamilyCare coverage for themselves and pregnant women may be able to get benefits from the Moms & Babies program.
Even if text4baby or the All Kids or other health insurance programs may not be something that you need, consider sharing these resources on your Facebook page or sending out a Tweet to your followers about the benefits of these programs. With your help, we can ensure that more women, children, and their families have the best opportunity to lead healthy and productive lives.
This post, by Kathy Chan of the Illinois Maternal and Child Health Coalition, was originally posted on the MomsRising,org blog, here.