Illinois Public Media News

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - August 17, 2011

Advocates Hopeful in Hearing Over Provena Merger

Local health care advocates hope a plan to create Illinois' largest Catholic hospital system results in greater financial assistance for the low-income.

There was little opposition in a state hearing in Urbana Wednesday, and another held the same day in Danville, over the planned merger between Provena hospitals and Chicago-based Resurrection Health Care.

Those who backed the move during Urbana's 90-minute hearing included Land of Lincoln Legal Assistance, and members of Champaign County Health Care Consumers. The group's executive director, Claudia Lennhoff, said its partnership with Provena Covenant Medical Center has helped low-income patients with medical expenses, and that a new charity care program would emerge, based on the best of both hospital systems, if the merger is approved.

But John Hilty of Urbana was concerned that a larger hospital system makes it less responsive to a community's needs.

"It seems to me that smaller organizations are easier to manage and tend to be more responsive to local communities, rather than large organizations, where the decision making is less personal and less attuned to a particular city or location," he said.

Hilty also said a larger hospital system doesn't necessarily result in less costly medical bills.

Provena Covenant Medical Center lost its property tax exemption in 2004, when the Illinois Department of Revenue ruled the hospital didn't provide enough charity care. The President and CEO of its hospitals in Urbana and Danville, Michael Brown, said Provena Covenant has proved many times since then that the hospital is a community partner. He said the level of charity care should improve with the merger. Brown said the move will produce savings from controlling purchasing prices to office functions.

"When you look at the tsunami that's in front of us as being able to take care of people with the 10,000 people a day eligible to join the Medicare ranks," he said. "There are not enough people in the following two generations to pay for that. So we have to do this a different way. And being able to merge these together and to leverage the resources gives us an opportunity to at least meet that need."

The proposed merger also got letters of endorsement from Champaign State Senator Mike Frerichs and Champaign Mayor Don Gerard.

The Illinois Health Facilities and Services Review Board will rule on the merger in October.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - August 17, 2011

Presidential Bus Tour Passes Through Illinois

President Barack Obama says it likely will be another year to 18 months before home prices start rising again and sales start to pick up.

But he says the federal government can't accomplish that alone, and will need support from the banking industry and others to make sure the market pulls out of its slump.

Obama provided no support for his prediction. His comments Wednesday came in response to questioner at a town hall in Atkinson, Ill.

The president ventured from Iowa into politically familiar territory as he wrapped up a three-state tour through the cornfields, towns and cities of the Midwest. He was holding a second town hall meeing Wednesday afternoon in Alpha, Illinois and was scheduled to meet with Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn later in the day.

Dozens of people lined up early Wednesday morning to see President Barack Obama at the first of two town hall-style meetings in rural Henry County.

Supporters Jean Causemaker and Mary Kay Franks were determined to see President Obama when they found out he'd be in town Wednesday. A handful of people without tickets gathered across the street, hoping to catch a glimpse of Obama's bus.

The three-day bus tour is part of an effort by Obama to command attention just after Republican presidential candidates dominated the news with a debate and straw poll in Iowa. He has used the trip to criticize his presidential and congressional opponents and to outline modest economic proposals in advance of Congress' return to Washington next month.

After his stop in Illinois, President Obama will return to Washington to begin a 10-day vacation.

(AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

Categories: Economics, Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - August 17, 2011

Lawsuit Seeks to Restart Process of Redistricting

The League of Women Voters of Illinois is asking a federal court to order a big change in the highly political, once-a-decade redistricting process. It's the latest suit tied to Illinois' new boundaries for congressional and state legislative districts.

The League last year tried to change how Illinois draws the boundaries, but its petition drive to get a proposal on the ballot came up short. Now the group is asking the courts to get involved.

In its lawsuit, the League claims its members' First Amendment rights were violated when Democratic leaders took into account party identification while drawing the maps. The lawsuit says this "unlawfully attempt[s] to control or influence the kinds of views, opinions and speech that residents placed in those districts are likely to express or hear or receive."

Illinois Republicans, who have a lot to lose if the Democratic-drawn maps stand, have also asked the courts to get involved.

But the League's lawsuit notes both parties have engaged in partisan gerrymandering in the past and wants the court to order a new process driven by "impartial" decision-makers.

But the League's president, Jan Dorner, acknowledged on that such a change may not be possible before next year's election.

Categories: Community, Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - August 16, 2011

Chicago Still Paying for Police Torture Claims

A former Chicago police commander imprisoned for lying about the torture of suspects decades ago is still costing the cash-strapped city money.

That's because Chicago is defending itself and former police Lt. Jon Burge against civil lawsuits from men who claim Burge and his men beat, suffocated and shocked confessions out of them.

Six lawsuits are pending that accuse Chicago officers of torturing suspects _ almost all of them black or Latino_ into giving confessions from the 1970s to the 1990s.

The city's stance has long been that it would defend itself vigorously against any such lawsuits. However, Mayor Rahm Emanuel told the Chicago Sun-Times for a story published Tuesday that he's working toward settling them.

Burge-related cases already have cost the city an estimated $43 million.


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - August 16, 2011

Illinois Panel Votes to Extend State Health Insurance Contracts

A legislative panel has voted 8-1 to authorize the state to negotiate health insurance contract extensions through the end of June 2012.

All vendors providing health insurance coverage for state workers, including Urbana-based Health Alliance, will be able to negotiate nine-month extensions following Tuesday's decision by the Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability (COGFA). State Senator and COGFA member Mike Frerichs said the extension should provide relief for a lot of people.

"I think for now the legislature has done its part," Frerichs said. "It's now up to the health insurance providers, and the (Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services) to work out the terms of the deal."

Orland Park House Democrat Kevin McCarthy cast the only dissenting vote.

The state health contracts have been operating for the last few months under a 90-day extension that is due to expire at the end of September. A state appellate court recently upheld a Sangamon County judge's ruling, preventing the state from moving ahead with new health contracts for state employees and retirees. Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn's administration has argued the so-called 'open access' plans will save the state about $100 million a year.

"We are very happy to been given the opportunity to negotiate a longer-term contract to continue serving state workers and their families," Health Alliance CEO Jeff Ingrum said in a statement. "Every day we receive calls from our state members wanting to know if they'll be able to stay with Health Alliance."

But insurers may not get a rate increase from the state over what they're getting currently. In addressing the panel Tuesday, Ingrum compared his provider's rates with that of another provider.

"We are looking at the rate increase and just seeing in this environment to extend a rate from FY 11 to a full year," he said. "If that would be the ultimate terms, it would be a bit unreasonable given the fact that Blue Cross (Blue Shield) got an increase."

Print reports indicate Ingrum is seeking a rate hike of around 5-percent. A company spokeswoman, Jane Hayes, said she understands the state's needs to save money by dropping Health Alliance. However, she said she has a great deal of confidence that Health Alliance will be able to reach a deal with the state.

State Senator Shane Cultra (R-Onarga) praised the vote by COGFA.

"Finally, thousands of central Illinoisans can breathe a sigh of relief," Cultra said in a statement. "We must fix the current process now, so we are not sitting here next May without a permanent solution in place for the 100,000 state workers and retirees who have faced this uncertainty since this process began."

The state is scheduled to argue before a Sangamon County judge later this week to argue whether COGFA has the authority to extend the current health insurance contract. However, Sen. Frerichs said Gov. Quinn's office recently filed a motion to dismiss that case.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - August 16, 2011

Status Hearing Scheduled for Rezko

A convicted influence peddler remains on track to be sentenced weeks after his one-time benefactor, former Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

Prosecutors said at a status hearing Tuesday that they want to stick with an Oct. 21 sentencing date for Tony Rezko.

The government has portrayed Rezko as the ultimate insider who pulled strings in Blagojevich's administration.

A jury convicted Rezko in 2008 of squeezing kickbacks from businessmen eager to land state contracts.

The 56-year-old appeared at Tuesday's hearing in jail clothes and chains binding his ankles. He smiled weakly and waived at relatives on courtroom benches.

Jurors convicted Blagojevich for corruption in June. His sentencing date is Oct. 6.

Rezko's sentencing was repeatedly delayed to leave the possibility he could testify at Blagojevich's trial. But the government never called him.



AP - Illinois Public Media News - August 15, 2011

Durbin Backs Duckworth in 8th Congressional District Race

U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin is making a rare endorsement in a primary election. The Illinois Democrat is backing Tammy Duckworth's 2012 campaign for Congress.

Durbin recruited Tammy Duckworth for a 2006 congressional bid, but the Iraq War veteran and Purple Heart recipient lost to Republican Rep. Peter Roskam. After that, former Gov. Rod Blagojevich appointed her to lead the state Department of Veterans Affairs, and then Duckworth took a job at the federal VA in Washington, DC.

She's returned to Illinois to run again, and Durbin is again backing her.

"I'm going to help Tammy Duckworth in any way that I can," Durbin said Monday. "By endorsing her today, campaigning for her, helping her raise money. It's an expensive undertaking."

Duckworth begins the money race well behind another Democrat running in the 8th Congressional District, former deputy state treasurer Raja Krishnamoorthi - who reported raising more than $400,000 dollars in the second quarter.

Both Duckworth and Krishnamoorthi are hoping to take advantage of new, Democratic-drawn boundaries for the district. Republicans, including the current 8th District congressman, Joe Walsh, are challenging that map in a federal lawsuit.

(AP Photo/M. Spencer Green, File)

Categories: Biography, Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - August 15, 2011

Judge Denies Request to Block Indiana Voucher Program

A judge has denied a temporary injunction that would have blocked Indiana's broad new school voucher program.

Marion County Judge Michael Keele sided with the state in his ruling Monday and against a group of teachers and religious leaders backed by the Indiana State Teachers Association. They tried to block the measure passed this year by the Republican-dominated General Assembly and signed into law by Gov. Mitch Daniels.

Attorneys for the state argued before Keele last week that granting the injunction could force students who received vouchers to leave their private schools just as the instruction year is beginning and scramble to re-enroll in public schools.

Keele ruled only on the plaintiffs' request for a preliminary injunction. Their complaint challenging the law hasn't gone to trial yet.

Categories: Education, Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - August 15, 2011

Quinn Wants to Work Out School Official Pay

Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn says he wants to work with regional school superintendents on who should pay their salaries.

Superintendents across Illinois are working for free after Quinn in early July eliminated the funds that pay them and their assistants. That's because there's a budget dispute over where the money to pay them should come from.

Quinn said Monday he thinks "we can work that out'' but provided no details.

He maintains that superintendents should be paid from the "personal property replacement tax'' that corporations and business partnerships pay instead of local property taxes.

He has characterized superintendents' jobs as "administrative overhead'' and called them "bureaucrats'' that aren't central to teaching process. He contends the state should spend its money in the classroom.

Categories: Education, Government, Politics

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