SPRINGFIELD | While a child advocacy group's report shows that more Illinois kids now have health insurance, it also warns that health disparities related to income and race could intensify if there are program cuts to Medicaid and social services as the state faces a large dip in revenues next year.
The yearly report released Thursday by Voices for Illinois Children shows children that are black, Latino or from low-income families have less access to health care and insurance.
Officials with the nonpartisan organization said if lawmakers don't sustain funding for Medicaid and other programs for families in need, the disparities could worsen. The state income tax is set to expire next year, leaving a $1.5 billion hole in the 2015fiscal year budget.
"If we do not maintain stable and sustainable revenue in this state, programs that impact children, families and communities will be cut by devastating amounts. We cannot allow that to happen," said Emily Miller, the policy director for Voices for Illinois Children. "I think the important thing to remember is that all programs are on the chopping block."
Despite the looming budget cuts, Miller said the report showed some positive trends for the state's youth. The proportion of Illinois children without health insurance dropped from 6 percent in 2008 to 3 percent in 2012, one of the lowest uninsured rates in the country. The report also shows decreases in infant mortality rates, child lead poisoning, and teen deaths caused by accidents, homicides or suicides.
But cases of child abuse and neglect have increased by 13 percent since 2006, with rates increasing the most in DuPage, Kane, Macon, Vermillion, and Will counties.
"I use this report to help figure out what kind of policies we need to do in the coming years, and there are clear policy steps we know we must take," said state Rep. Robyn Gabel, a Democrat from Evanston.
Gabel said maintaining funding for Medicaid and successfully implementing the federal health care law in Illinois would reduce disparities found in the report. She also said early education, school health centers and afterschool programs need to be supported.
State Rep. Sam Yingling, a Democrat from Grayslake, admitted there's no doubt the state will see budget cuts. He said he will urge fellow lawmakers to consider the report when negotiating the state's budget.
"Many of our efforts to reduce disparity in children's health depends on the state's financial health," Yingling said. "That's something we have seen in the aftermath of the Great Recession as we've seen budget cuts really hurt low-income families and their access to plans and services."