News Local/State

Quinn Lauds Affordable Care Act, Backs Down From State Marketplace


In recognition of the first anniversary of the Affordable Care Act, Gov. Pat Quinn is touting its success, while at the same time backing away from having Illinois take a greater role in the program.

At first, Gov. Quinn was all about Illinois creating its own "exchange" -- a technical word for the portal where people can shop for coverage.

Instead, insurance companies and healthcare advocates couldn't agree on how to set one up. Timid lawmakers, afraid to look like they were embracing Obamacare ahead of the 2012 election, didn't help either.

So this past year, Illinois has shared part of the control -- and the responsibility -- of running the marketplace with the federal government.

Quinn says he's fine staying that way. His original zest for a state-based exchange is gone.

"Either way, our job is to get as many people as possible in health coverage in our state," Quinn says. "If the legislature, in the House, decides to pass a state-run program, state-run exchange, I'm happy to sign it."

Quinn denied that it will cost Illinois more money if it keeps the partnership.

But healthcare advocates say if Illinois doesn't go on its own by this year, it'll miss out on a large federal grant to build the marketplace.

And one federal appellate court says only states that have their own exchanges can get federal money to help pay for subsidies that make insurance more affordable. If that ruling sticks, it could leave lower-income Illinoisans having to pay more for coverage. The state says since its launch, 685-thousand people have taken advantage of the law -- more than expected.

That includes Keith Moons, who says his family lost insurance coverage in 2011, and weren't able to get it back, because of unemployment and pre-existing conditions.

"And I challenge anyone out there that's against the Affordable Care Act to go without healthcare for two years. And you tell me what it feels like ... you tell me what it feels like to walk into an emergency room with your kid with a sickness or a sports-related injury, knowing when you walk into that emergency room, you don't have healthcare," Moons said at Quinn's press conference in Chicago Tuesday.

While more than 217,000 people signed up for private insurance through the marketplace, more than double that -- 468,000 -- enrolled in Medicaid, the government healthcare program for the poor.

Illinois was one of the states that agreed to expand Medicaid to cover low-income adults without children as part of "Obamacare."

For now, the federal government is reimbursing the state for the full cost, but that ramps down over time. Republicans say Illinois won't be able to afford it should the feds stop. Today, only people with a life-changing event (like losing a job) can sign up for insurance through the Affordable Care Act.

A new round of open enrollment begins November 15th.