Illinois Public Media News
Two of the nation's largest pharmacy benefits management companies could become one in the first six months of next year.
The $29.1 billion merger between St. Louis-based Express Scripts and and Medco Health Solutions, based in New Jersey, still needs approval from both shareholders and regulators. The boards of both companies approved the merger on Thursday.
If approved, the company, which would retain the Express Scripts name and headquarters, would be the largest of its kind in the country. Together, Express Scripts and Medco handled 1.7 billion prescriptions in 2010, and generated more than $110 billion in revenue.
The size, said Express Scripts' chief spokesman Larry Zarin, would give the new company an edge on reducing health care costs, which he says is a priority of the nation as well as the corporation.
"Where we are with health care costs, where we are with health care reform, the size of that challenge and the absolute call for new, innovative solutions, both structurally and tactically, and we're going to take on both," he said.
The companies say they have identified $1 billion in potential savings by streamlining areas like the supply chain and research and development.
But Zarin ducked questions about possible layoffs.
"Today is not the day to talk about that," he said. "Today is the day to look forward. "We're going to take a very thoughtful approach to the integration, a very thoughtful approach in terms of structuring the organization in the best way, and we're not really going to take a look at head count today."
Medco has 20,000 employees - Express Scripts has about 13,000.
Illinois is getting a commission to decide when charter schools should be created and then make sure they're running properly.
The commission gives advocates a new path for approval of charter schools instead of having to go through local school boards or the State Board of Education.
Gov. Pat Quinn signed the commission into law Wednesday. He will submit a slate of potential members and then the State Board of Education decides who actually serves on the commission.
Charter schools are public schools that are exempt from some state laws so they can try new education methods or pursue particular goals. Advocates say officials have been slow to approve new charter schools.
Facing a big drop in federal money to help poor people keep their power on, the state of Illinois decided earlier this year to use the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program only in winter this year.
That's leaving potentially tens of thousands of people without extra money to keep their power on or get it reconnected during a devastating heat wave.
Spokeswoman Marcelyn Love says the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity had little choice. Otherwise it might have run out of money during a brutal Illinois winter.
That doesn't comfort people like Cynthia Littlefield of Paxton. She's unemployed and her family has a $198 electricity bill from Ameren it can't pay.
Ameren spokesman Leigh Morris says the utility won't turn off power for non-payment during heat advisories.
Unemployment in Illinois increased to 9.2 percent in June, the second straight month the state jobless rate increased.
The state Department of Employment Security today laid part of the blame on weak consumer confidence they said was hindering the national economy.
The national unemployment rate hit also 9.2 percent in June. That was up from 9.1 percent.
The employment security department said the number of people in Illinois out of work and looking increased by 18,900 to 603,700.
The biggest job losses were in the government and educational and health services sectors. Both shed 3,500 jobs for the month.
The leisure and hospitality sector added 3,900 jobs with the start of summer.
AMR Corp.'s American Airlines is claiming to have made the largest purchase on Wednesday of airplanes in aviation history, but it is raising some questions over how the purchase will affect American's relationship with the Chicago-based Boeing company.
American has had an almost exclusive relationship buying planes from Boeing, or companies Boeing bought out, for years. But that all changed when American announced today that it's buying 200 new planes from Boeing and 260 planes from Boeing's rival, Airbus.
"I think it's hurtful to Boeing," said Aaron Gellman, who follows the airline industry at Northwestern University.
He said the higher ups at Boeing should be raising questions about how Airbus struck such a lucrative deal with American Airlines.
But Florida-based aviation consultant Stuart Klaskin said the order does not mean there is a broken relationship between American and Boeing.
"There's no way they can say they're disappointed," Klaskin said. "They just sold 200 airplanes to American Airlines. I mean, God. It's a massive - by any other standard it's a massive order."
Klaskin said if anything, American caught up with other airline companies by diversifying its fleet of planes so as to not have all its eggs in the Boeing basket.
Meanwhile, Joe Schwieterman, who follows the aviation industry at Chicago's DePaul University, said, "This is really making a statement that they're going to have an equal mix of Airbus and Boeing and I think it's a bit of a wake up call for Boeing, as well, that they shouldn't count on the majority of orders from the big guys here in the U.S."
Schwieterman said there is no need for Boeing to panic. Buying 200 planes is still a huge order and it should give Boeing confidence to make further improvements to its aircraft.
The University of Illinois' Board of Trustees is poised to vote Thursday on ending its long-running flight training program, but there is a chance the Institute of Aviation may have a new home.
The Urbana campus has provided flight training since the mid-1940's. Parkland College President Tom Ramage said he has been in talks with U of I officials about incorporating the aviation program into his school's curriculum. He said he is interested in keeping the institute alive, even if it is on a smaller scale.
"A private pilot licensure as well as commercial pilot licensure can happen without a degree or it can happen with a degree," he said. "We could go as far as the associate's degree, and partner as we do with many other programs with another university to do that degree competition."
Ramage said the prospect of Parkland adopting the flight program is largely dependent on what happens in the days ahead. He noted that discussions with the U of I about the institute have just started.
"I would imagine if the (University of Illinois) decides not to come and have a discussion with Parkland that they have good reason for it," Ramage said. "I don't know that I would beat down the door trying to figure out why."
On his end, Ramage said he would have to review the cost of maintaining the flight program, and the prospect of post-graduate jobs for aviation students.
A panel of U of I administrators and faculty made the recommendation in February to get rid of the Institute of Aviation as part of a series of cost-cutting measures. If that recommendation goes through with the vote by the Board of Trustees, then the flight program would end by 2014.
Staff and alumni from the Institute of Aviation plan to rally Thursday morning before the Board of Trustees meeting in Chicago.
Top Illinois Republicans have sued to invalidate the state's new legislative district map drawn by Democrats.
In a lawsuit filed Wednesday in federal court, House Republican leader Tom Cross and Senate Republican leader Christine Radogno contend the map shortchanges blacks and Latinos and dilutes the voting strength of Republicans.
Democrats were in charge of the redistricting process because they control both the Legislature and the governor's office. Gov. Pat Quinn has signed the map into law, and his office defended it Wednesday, saying it "represents our diverse state and protects the voting rights of minorities.'' Quinn is out of the country on a trip to Israel.
Democrats have defended the map, but it's gotten mixed reviews from community groups. Some praised it for adequately reflecting the state's growing Latino population, while others say it could go further and also better maximize the black voting population in some districts.
The map could be redrawn if the lawsuit is successful.
(AP Photo/Seth Perlman)
An attorney is seeking more than $340,000 from the estate of former Springfield Mayor Tim Davlin, who committed suicide last year.
The lawyer represents the estate of Margaret Ettelbrick. She was Davlin's cousin, and he became executor for her estate after she died in 2003.
The claims filed against Davlin's estate allege that he sold Ettelbrick's house for about $46,000 less than it was worth, spent more than $85,000 for his personal benefit and used more than $200,000 to buy stock in a company.
The (Springfield) State Journal-Register reports that the claims were filed by Kevin McDermott, the Sangamon County public administrator who is administering Ettelbrick's estate.
Davlin shot himself in December on the day he was due in court to answer questions about her estate.
(AP Photo/Tom Gannam)
Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn has taken his work to Israel this week, going on what his office is calling an educational mission. Before he left, Quinn told reporters his trip would mostly focus on Israel's green technology efforts.
"I think it's pretty inspiring that we work together on these important issues of clean water, reducing emissions, having an alternative to petroleum and also definitely education," Quinn said.
On Wednesday, the governor will visit Better Place, a company that develops battery-charging and swapping locations for electric cars. Quinn said he wanted to explore battery-charged vehicles as a possible alternative to petroleum-fueled cars.
Quinn plans to attend a signing ceremony on Thursday for an exchange program between Ben-Gurion University and University of Illinois at Chicago. The program will promote faculty and student exchanges and joint research efforts.
Also on his schedule are plans to sign a 'Sister Lakes' agreement with Israel -- a plan that would benefit Israel's Lake Kinneret (the Sea of Galilee) and Lake Michigan. The agreement would encourage Illinois and Israel to share solutions about water purification, invasive fish species and other concerns.
The governor's office says the trip is paid for by the Jewish United Fund of Metropolitan Chicago. Among the other state leaders visiting Israel with the governor are Illinois State Sens. Jeffrey Schoenberg and Ira Silverstein.
Borders says it plans to end its operations by the end of September.
The Ann Arbor-based company announced plans Monday to sell off its assets after not receiving any bids to stay in business. At its peak in 2003, Borders ran more than 1,200 stores, but by the time the company filed for bankruptcy protection in February, that number was cut in half.
Technology played a big role in the company's demise, according to Dilip Sarwate, a professor in business administration at the University of Illinois.
"It's certainly difficult to compete with the likes of Amazon," Sarwate said. "I'm not sure this could be completely avoided. Fewer and fewer people are visiting bookstores. They are going to their computers and buying books."
But Lisa Bayer, who is the marketing director for the University of Illinois Press, said while technology did play a role in Border's downfall, it could have been avoided. She said Borders simply was not prepared for the onslaught of digital reading devices.
"They didn't position themselves to take advantage of various changes," Bayer said. "Barnes and Noble has the NOOK. Amazon developed the Kindle. Borders did really nothing."
Borders did come out with an e-reader last year, known as a Kobo. Produced by an electronic company in Canada, the Kobo will still be available to people who use the software to purchase and read books.
Up until Monday, the University of Illinois Press was still doing business with Borders. Bayer said the publishing company has been distancing itself from the retail giant over the last five years for various reasons, including "very questionable" decisions by the company's management.
Bayer said the University of Illinois Press' involvement with Borders was so minimal that she does not think the bookstore's failure will have a huge impact on the publishing company.
"It's very likely they hadn't even ordered any of our books in a while," she said, noting that many of the University of Illinois Press' books are scholarly journals. "We're not as much of an interest to them as some other kinds of publishers."
Of the nearly 400 Borders bookstores slated to close, three are in Champaign, Mattoon and Peoria.
Mary Beth Nebel runs an independent retail bookstore in Peoria called "I Know You Like a Book." She said she does not think Border's demise is a sign that other retailers are destined to fail.
"I hate to see any bookstore close," she said, reflecting on Border's closure. "I think independent bookstore like I have is much different than a chain store. It's more of a community-based place. I think more people will enjoy that sort of atmosphere."
With Peoria's Borders expected to close and a Barnes and Noble still running, Nebel said she has no intention of changing the way she runs her five-year-old business.
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