Obama won health care for many

SUMMARY: An ad for Obama's presidential campaign gets it right about how many people became insured after Obama's legislation became law.

In an ad making the case for Barack Obama as a political candidate who can bring people together, an announcer says Obama "won health care for 150,000 people." He repeated the claim on Sept. 17, 2007, at a forum for the Service Employees International Union (SEIU): "That's how, working with SEIU, I was able to pass health reform in Illinois that covers an additional 150,000 children and parents."

So did he?

The statement is based on a 2003 law Obama sponsored when he was an Illinois state senator. His bill expanded income eligibility for KidCare and FamilyCare, the state health insurance programs for low-income families. Gov. Ron Blagojevich, a Democrat, signed the bill on July 1, 2003.

Obama's bill worked by increasing the amount of money a family could earn and still qualify for health insurance. Before Obama's bill, families had to make less than 185 percent of the federal poverty line; after Obama's bill, they had to make less than 200 percent. In practice, this meant that before Obama's bill, a family of three couldn't make more than $28,236 to qualify. After Obama's bill they could make up to $30,516 and still qualify.

After the new law passed, both programs saw sizable increases in enrollment. Children's enrollment increased by 55,421 between 2003 and 2005, according to a study from the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. Adult enrollment increased by 100,458 between 2003 and 2006. That comes to a total of 155,879. So after Obama's legislation passed, more than 150,000 people did get health insurance.

In 2005, after Obama left the state legislature for the U.S. Senate, Blagojevich successfully pushed to do away with any income requirement for uninsured children to qualify. As expected, enrollment continued to climb.

Other states have similar insurance programs, collectively referred to as the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP), which are funded in part by the federal government. The Kaiser Foundation looked at SCHIP programs around the country for a May 2007 study called "SCHIP Turns 10." The study found that the programs reduce the rate of uninsurance among low-income children, and that outreach and eligibility simplification boost enrollment. As of this writing, the federal government must re-authorize SCHIP funding by Oct. 1, 2007, and President Bush is threatening to veto the program because of its cost.

The measure was sponsored in the Illinois House by Republican Rep. Sandra Pihos. Blagojevich, who signed the bill and is still the Democratic governor of Illinois, has made expansion of the health insurance programs a major goal. The numbers for new enrollees don't distinguish between those who would have qualified without Obama's legislation, and those who needed his legislation to be able to join. The best available information supports this claim.