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Illinois Advocates Take on Health Insurance Industry

Coalition of Health and Consumer Advocates Launch Statewide Campaign Aimed at Tackling Unfair Industry Practices & Soaring Costs

SPRINGFIELD, Ill., March 4 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- As the economy worsens, soaring health insurance rates and unfair industry practices are leaving a growing number of individuals and businesses struggling when it comes to health care. Today, advocate groups from across the state converged on the State Capitol, joining with legislators, business owners and people who told of their own health insurance horror stories, to launch a statewide grassroots effort to clean up the industry in Illinois.

Nearly 30 groups, including AARP, Illinois PIRG, AIDS Foundation, and the Illinois Maternal and Child Health Coalition, are calling on the General Assembly to pass the Individual Health Insurance Fairness Act (House Bill 3923), sponsored by Representative Greg Harris.

"We're launching a statewide campaign to address a statewide problem - the insurance industry has a stranglehold on businesses, families and those who are dealing with the loss of a job," said Bob Gallo, State Director for AARP Illinois. "AARP commends Representative Harris for taking a stand on the critical issue of health insurance reform."

The grassroots efforts launched by the groups will include community forums and town halls held across the state, on-line advocacy efforts, a statewide petition drive, and a new 800 number, the Health Insurance Reform Hotline (1-800-664-9903), to help connect people directly with their legislators to urge support for the legislation.

"We need to be sure that the law here in Illinois protects our families, children and small businesses, and is not there solely to help insurance companies as they deny people coverage and pad their bottom line," said Representative Greg Harris (D-Chicago). "It's a disgrace when our State laws help deny health insurance to families who need it most."

The Individual Health Insurance Fairness Act would guarantee access to coverage regardless of pre-existing conditions; prevent insurers from charging more based on health status or gender; and establish Office of Patient Protection to conduct external independent reviews of denied claims and rate increases. The Act also requires insurers to spend at least 85% of premium dollars on medical care rather than on executives' salaries, marketing, and profits and would create new guidelines allowing small businesses and self-employed individuals better access to affordable policies.

"Under my employer's insurance, the out-of-pocket costs for my medication were so high, that I had to choose between the medication and food," said Terre Taylor, an HIV/AIDS advocate. "This bill would make insurance more affordable and ensure that no one else would have to be in this situation."

"Illinoisans are tired of paying more and getting less in the health care marketplace," said Brian Imus, State Director for Illinois PIRG. "The reforms announced today will ensure the transparency and accountability needed in the health insurance industry so consumers can afford adequate and dependable coverage for their families."

"This Act will help bring more equity to the private insurance market, especially for women, by getting rid of discriminatory practices that allow insurance companies to charge women higher premiums and consider pregnancy a pre-existing condition," said Kathy Chan, Policy Director with the Illinois Maternal and Child Health Coalition.

Since the start of the recession, nearly 4 million people have lost their health care, with a national average of 14,000 losing their health insurance everyday. In Illinois it's estimated that 650 residents lose their jobs daily - with many also losing health coverage. In the private market, an average annual premium for a family of four has risen to nearly $5,500, while an individual premium costs $2,500 in Illinois.

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