Ignoring key bill, Wash. Post's Milbank attempted to refute Obama's statement that he "expanded health care in Illinois"

››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

The Washington Post's Dana Milbank wrote that Sen. Barack Obama's "signature legislation as a state senator, the Health Care Justice Act, merely set up a panel to craft a plan," not, as Obama claimed, "expanded health care in Illinois by bringing Democrats and Republicans together, by taking on the insurance industry." In fact, Obama sponsored a bill that expanded health insurance programs for low-income families in Illinois. Following that bill's passage, more than 150,000 additional people reportedly received health insurance through the programs.

In his December 14 Washington Post piece, "Attacks Add," Dana Milbank asserted that Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) "is no Boy Scout" and that "the achievements Obama has to tout are thin." To support his claim, Milbank noted Obama's speech to the Democratic National Committee on November 30, in which Obama claimed he "expanded health care in Illinois by bringing Democrats and Republicans together, by taking on the insurance industry." Milbank then wrote: "Actually, his signature legislation as a state senator, the Health Care Justice Act, merely set up a panel to craft a plan." In fact, while Obama did sponsor the Health Care Justice Act in 2004, which "encourages Illinois to implement a health care plan that provides access to a full range of preventive, acute and long-term health care services," he also sponsored a 2003 bill that expanded KidCare and FamilyCare, health insurance programs for low-income families in Illinois. PolitiFact.com cited a Kaiser Foundation study in reporting that, following the bill's passage, "more than 150,000" additional people received health insurance through these programs.

In 2003, Obama sponsored a bill that expanded eligibility for KidCare and FamilyCare by amending "the Children's Health Insurance Program Act to provide that a child with a household income of 200%, rather than 185%, of the federal poverty level is eligible to participate in the Program." The House version of the bill was sponsored by state Rep. Sandra Pihos, a Republican. On July 1, 2003, Illinois Gov. Ron Blagojevich (D) signed the bill into law. During both his 2004 U.S. Senate campaign and his current presidential campaign, Obama has repeatedly highlighted his sponsorship of the bill, often saying that he "expanded health care to 150,000 children and their parents in Illinois." According to enrollment statistics provided by the Kaiser Foundation, the two programs expanded enrollment by more than 150,000. From a September 25, 2007, analysis of a recent Obama campaign advertisement by PolitiFact, a project of the St. Petersburg Times and Congressional Quarterly:

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."

[...]

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.

[...]

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.

During the July 1, 2003, signing ceremony for the bill, Blagojevich stated: "We're expanding a great program and the leadership and commitment of Senator Obama and Representative Pihos helped to make it possible." Similarly, in its March 8, 2004, endorsement of Obama during his 2004 U.S. Senate campaign, the Peoria Journal Star (Illinois) asserted that Obama "was instrumental in extending the reach of KidCare, the health-insurance program for the working poor."

In an October 8, 2004, Chicago Tribune profile, Obama cited "expanding KidCare" as an example of his "signature legislation" while in the state senate.

From Milbank's December 14 column:

When a Boy Scout sees an older woman, he helps her cross the street. In the race for the Democratic presidential nomination, Barack Obama is no Boy Scout.

The 46-year-old freshman senator from Illinois, trying to topple the 60-year-old front-runner, never once utters the words "Hillary" or "Clinton." But the target of his stump speech is unmistakable -- and his derision is brutal.

[...]

Obama is arguably the best speaker in the presidential race, and his stump speech the most lyrical. "Our nation's at war, the planet is in peril, the dream that so many generations fought for feels as if it's slowly slipping away," he reports.

On the other hand, the achievements Obama has to tout are thin. "I've done more than any candidate in this race to actually take on lobbyists, and I've won," he boasts. Well, yes, he championed ethics reforms in the Senate but left much of the heavy lifting to others while he campaigned.

"I expanded health care in Illinois by bringing Democrats and Republicans together, by taking on the insurance industry," he asserts. Actually, his signature legislation as a state senator, the Health Care Justice Act, merely set up a panel to craft a plan.

Obama also sounds a bit green when he vows that "I will finish the fight against al-Qaeda" -- a battle nobody expects will wrap up in the next four years.

Posted In
Government, Health Care, Health Care Reform
Network/Outlet
The Washington Post
Person
Dana Milbank
Stories/Interests
Barack Obama, 2008 Elections
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