Also, public officials keenly remember the fallout from President Bill Clinton's attempt to reform health care a dozen years ago - leaving a sense that the issue is so divisive that any attempt to address it is bound to end disastrously. The question now is, are enough people upset enough over soaring medical costs and eroding insurance coverage to make it worthwhile, politically, to take on these issues?
Kenneth Robbins, a task force member and head of the Illinois Hospital Association, thinks the answer is maybe. "For a dozen years, health reform has been one of the third rails of American politics," he said. "Now, the issue is regaining respectability, and people are willing to come up to the rail. Whether they're willing to touch it yet, I just don't know."
No one expects a one-size-fits-all answer to emerge in Illinois, including advocacy groups that in the past devoted their efforts to pushing a Canadian-style, government-run health care system.
"That just doesn't have enough appeal here," said Jim Duffett, executive director of the Campaign for Better Health Care. Instead, he predicts, a "hodgepodge of public and private solutions" will be put forward, and "controlling costs" will be part of any discussion to expand access.
Republican state Rep. Elizabeth Coulson, who supported the passage of the Health Care Justice Act, said Illinois has done "pretty much the obvious things" in expanding coverage to low-income children and their families through KidCare, FamilyCare and now Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich's new plan, All Kids. That program will extend medical coverage to about 250,000 uninsured children, beginning July 1.
Going forward, Coulson envisions a series of incremental reforms targeting specific populations, such as poor, single adults without children (who currently don't qualify for Medicaid) and young adults (who often lose their medical coverage when they leave college and start working in entry-level jobs). Another target group might be people ages 55 to 64 who can't get insurance because of a pre-existing medical condition and are too young to qualify for Medicare.
"I think there's actually a will to expand coverage in Illinois, but it won't be one solution and it won't happen next year," Coulson said.
"Everybody is going to have to get something and everybody is going to have to give something for this to work," said Lerner, the chairman of the state's health care task force. Any expansion of coverage must be paired with measures to make health insurance more affordable and to encourage more preventive services that help keep people well, he said.
Public comments have overwhelmingly endorsed the need for the state to take aggressive action. At a recent hearing in Skokie, Beryl Clemens, 74, described what it was like to live without medical insurance for seven years after her husband died and before becoming eligible for Medicare.
Fearful of an accident, Clemens stopped driving and became isolated. Unable to afford care, she stopped seeing the doctor and filling prescriptions.
"I was unhappy, I was scared," she said, telling the task force, "I would be very pleased if you passed a comprehensive health care bill in Illinois so no one else has to go through what I went through. ... It was a living nightmare."
Judith Graham writes for the Chicago Tribune.