Illinois Public Media News
Two Illinois agencies will get more than $1.1 million in federal grant money to prevent homelessness among military veterans.
The grants from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs will serve about 340 vets and their families who are homeless or don't have a permanent home.
An agency called Thresholds in Chicago will get $439,722 and Chicago-based Volunteers of America in Illinois will get $719,400.
The money is among nearly $60 million the department will award to 85 nonprofit agencies in 40 states and Washington, D.C.
The Supportive Services for Veteran Families programs provides money to community agencies to help with such services as getting Veterans Administration benefits, and paying rent, utilities or moving costs.
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.
A trend toward consolidation is working its way through the industry that provides blood to hospitals. Urbana-based Community Blood Services of Illinois is merging with a larger firm, Quad Cities-based Mississippi Valley Regional Blood Services.
The Urbana center's chief executive, Pat Kovar, said the jobs of the 71 employees under his watch are safe.
"Realistically we would expect over time you always have some normal attrition, and candidly there may be some employees here who just won't want to continue even though they'll have a job and maybe even doing the same thing, so we'll see," Kovar said, "Right now there are no planned reductions or layoffs as a result of the merger."
Kovar said blood agencies around the countries are considering consolidation as hospital systems merge and the health care industry prepares for big changes in the years ahead. He says the Urbana office will still supply blood for the five hospitals currently in its service area, including Urbana, Danville, Mattoon and Effingham.
Officials hope to complete the regulatory process and make the merger official by November.
The organization overseeing Provena's hospitals in Urbana and Danville has agreed to a merger to create the state's largest Catholic hospital system.
Exploratory talks with Chicago-based Resurrection Health Care have gone on since February. The union with Mokena-based Provena Health still requires the approval of the state, which could happen this fall. Provena spokeswoman Lisa Lagger said as the merger was explored, areas provided by one hospital system seemed to better serve in where the other wasn't as strong, including behavioral health and home care agencies.
"So you can see a very comprehensive array of services and offerings. and it's all very complimentary in its nature in that we don't compete with other Resurrection hospitals, for example in our markets," Lagger said. "And it's from a complimentary geographical base."
Outside of Urbana and Danville, Provena primarily serves Illinois' so-called collar counties, which includes cities like Joliet and Aurora, while Resurrection primarily operates in Chicago. Resurrection spokesman Brian Crawford said one focus of building a patient- family center care environment is to better care for someone long after their hospital stay.
"We really the ability here to build, I think, what could be a very unique system that treats people in the hospital when they need to be in the hospital, but then also does follow-up care through our non-acute facilities," he said. "It keeps track of patients to make sure they don't end up back in the hospital, which is also very costly to the patient themselves."
Crawford said there should also be cost savings incurred by closing down information systems and a corporate office for one of the hospital systems. The combined system would provide more than 100 sites, including 12 hospitals, 28 long-term care and senior residential centers, and more than 50 clinics.
Lagger said the Illinois Health Facilities Services Review Board could approve the merger by October.
Gov. Pat Quinn signed the new Illinois budget into law Thursday, after first trimming money for school buses, eliminating support for regional education offices and chopping Medicaid.
The Democrat suggested the cuts could be part of further negotiations.
"Implementing a budget is not a one-day event but rather a year-round process filled with robust debate and difficult decisions," Quinn said in a statement.
Quinn has repeatedly criticized the spending plan lawmakers sent him, saying it shortchanged many important services. But he cut further.
Money for Medicaid, a health program for the poor, is being cut by an additional $276 million. That brings the Department of Healthcare and Family Services budget to $14.3 billion, or about 4.5 percent below current levels.
Illinois will still have to pay for medical services, however, so less money means bills are simply paid more slowly. Unless something changes, about $1.5 billion in Medicaid bills will be left unpaid at the end of the year, adding to backlog that already amounts to $6 billion or more.
"The point is to get the interested parties to the table to negotiate in good faith" on controlling Medicaid costs, Vaught said in an interview with The Associated Press.
Transportation money the state provides to local schools will be cut by $89 million, which leaves nearly $206 million, a substantial increase.
Vaught said the purpose of that cut is to focus limited state resources on classrooms.
"That's a local function, getting the kids to school," Vaught said, referring to the transportation money as "excess" state funds.
Reducing state aid for transportation is likely to force schools to take money away from other educational services in order to keep buses running.
Quinn eliminated all the money the state provides for regional offices of education around the state. The cut of about $11.3 million does not eliminate the offices, but it would force local taxpayers to come up with the money or close the offices.
Lawmakers rejected both of Quinn's education cuts. They have the option of restoring the $376 million that Quinn cut Thursday. Unless they take action, however, Quinn's version of the budget is the one Illinois will follow for the next year.
His office said Quinn's cuts bring the key measure of state spending to $32.9 billion, about $2 billion below the previous budget. That's a reduction of roughly 6 percent.
Vaught said he didn't know the total size of the budget, including federal funds, fees and other special categories. For the previous year, it was $52.7 billion.
Quinn did not make any public appearance to discuss signing the budget. He does not have any appearances scheduled for Friday either.
The additional budget cuts are likely to frustrate groups that feel the version approved by lawmakers was already deeply flawed. It slashed money to institutions for the mentally handicapped, promised long delays in paying Medicaid bills, reduced education spending and cut money for state employees.
"This is a fundamentally broken budget, an unworkable plan that falls far short of the revenue needed to adequately support basic services," said Anders Lindall, spokesman for the Illinois division of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.
Lindall urged Quinn to spend at the levels needed to maintain services and then work with lawmakers to come up with more money later in the year.
But Vaught said Quinn must assume no more money will be available. "You implement right away and you do the cuts," he said.
A key question is what cuts Quinn can make. He reached a bargain with AFSCME last year in which the union agreed to make concessions and Quinn agreed not to cut jobs or close state facilities.
Vaught said Quinn will diclose more of his plans soon.
(AP Photo/Seth Perlman)
Carle Physician Group announced at midday on Thursday that its Rantoul office was temporarily closed, due to a problem with its sewer line.
Carle will reopen Friday. Patients who have appointments scheduled for Friday should plan to keep their appointments.
If you have questions, please call Carle's Rantoul office at 217-893-7700.
New regulations clamping down on workers' compensation abuses in Illinois have been signed into law.
The changes include a 30 percent reduction in medical payments. Other provisions include letting payments for carpal tunnel syndrome last only 28 1/2 weeks, instead of 40. New guidelines also will make it harder for intoxicated workers to win claims.
During a visit to Champaign Tuesday afternoon, Governor Pat Quinn praised the measure, saying the changes are reasonable.
"The reforms we enacted I think will help workers and maintain their right to get compensation for an injury and at the same time be fair to the employers, and not in any way take advantage of them," Quinn said.
But State Senator Shane Cultra (R-Onarga) said the workers comp legislation does not go far enough. He said it could do a better job connecting injuries that happen as a result of a job, rather than at a job.
"With causation, it's like putting a band-aid because you're still going to have claims filed that probably shouldn't be filed and attributed to workers' comp," Cultra said.
The changes to workers' compensation are expected to cut between $500 million and $700 million from the $3 billion workers' compensation system.
Lura Lynn Ryan, the former Illinois first lady who spent the waning years of her life seeking freedom for her imprisoned husband, former Gov. George Ryan, has died after a long bout with cancer. She was 76.
Lura Lynn Ryan died late Monday at Riverside Medical Center in Kankakee, said Andrea Lyons, an attorney for George Ryan. She had been diagnosed with lung cancer and hospitalized for apparent complications from chemotherapy.
She was a steadfast supporter of the former governor, whom she had met in high school, and maintained that he had never done anything wrong during his lengthy political career. They had been married for 55 years.
The former governor, serving time on federal corruption charges, was quietly escorted from his prison cell in Terre Haute, Ind., to be at her side for two hours in January in the intensive care unit at a Kankakee hospital, about 130 miles away. She had been hospitalized earlier in the day and, according to George Ryan's lawyer, drifted in and out of sleep and struggled to speak while he was there, though she recognized him.
The secret visit was not revealed until two days later, when federal prosecutors mentioned it in a court filing arguing against a request by Ryan's lawyers to have him released on bail so he could spend more time with his dying wife. The former governor was convicted on federal corruption charges in 2006, and has served three years of a 6 1/2-year sentence for racketeering, conspiracy, tax fraud and making false statements to the FBI.
Lura Lynn Lowe grew up in the Kankakee County village of Aroma Park where her family, originally from Germany, had lived since 1834. Her father owned one of the nation's first hybrid seed companies. She moved to Kankakee for high school.
She and the former governor met in high school English class. Together, they have five daughters, one son and more than a dozen grandchildren.
Lura Lynn Ryan had no idea when they got married that her husband would go into politics. He started life as a Kankakee drug store owner.
But his brother was mayor and she started to think her husband might run for office when he helped a friend who was running for the county board and seemed to have a flair for politics.
The climb was steady, from a seat in the General Assembly to lieutenant governor to secretary of state and finally the governorship - reaching the pinnacle of both state government and Illinois' Republican establishment. She spoke admiringly of the mansion in Springfield - her official home for four years.
Prosecutors say the road to the top was marred by corruption. But she focused on the positive, including Ryan's unprecedented commuting of all 156 inmates on Illinois' death row before leaving office in 2003, and his efforts to curb drunken driving. She made it a priority to participate in charitable causes, such as a program to influence teenagers to avoid drug and alcohol abuse.
"As my children grew older and I could be with him (Ryan), I kind of took up my little causes," she said. "And I think we did make a difference."
Ryan was convicted in 2006 of steering state contracts and leases to political insiders while he was secretary of state and then governor for one term. He received vacations and gifts in return. He also was accused of stopping an investigation into secretary of state employees accepting bribes in exchange for truck driver's licenses.
In 2000, Lura Lynn Ryan was pulled into the licenses-for-bribes scandal when a woman claimed she'd handed her a letter in 1998 detailing corruption at a truck licensing facility. The alleged hand-off happened at an event nine months before George Ryan was elected governor, and the former first lady said she didn't remember the letter or the woman.
Lura Lynn Ryan grew increasingly frail during her final years, appearing at her husband's court appearances with an oxygen tank.
(AP Photo/M. Spencer Green, File)
The 2008 recession has taken its toll up and down U.S. Route 150 - and the U.S. Department of Agriculture says almost every Illinois county along the 150 corridor has seen an uptick in 2010 in use of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, better known as food stamps. But anti-hunger advocates say many people who have lost their jobs are NOT taking advantage of SNAP. Illinois Public Media's Dave Dickey reports as a part of the series "Life on Route 150.
Members of a health care advocacy group are urging Congress to avoid touching Social Security as a bipartisan panel looks to reduce the national deficit.
Champaign County Health Care Consumers has sent a letter to Senator Dick Durbin, speculating that his 'Gang of Six' is still looking at cuts to Social Security. The group's Medicare Task Force says a myth is being spread on Capitol Hill that the program adds to the deficit. Thomas Rohrer is a member of the group's Medicare Task Force. He said he is concerned about any efforts to privatize Social Security.
"The stock market crashed a couple years ago, and people lost a lot of money," Rorher said. "And if social security people lose their benefits - where would they go? What would happen? At least the government provides a safety net."
The consumers' group also opposes any talk of raising the retirement age from 67 to 69. Rohrer said he has friends who simply can't stay in their current jobs until that age, and worries about age discrimination for anyone trying to find new work.
The Health Care Consumers' Executive Director Claudia Lenhoff criticized AARP, noting that the agency is willing to consider raising the retirement age. She said it is 'selling out its constituents' as a result.
"They talk out of both sides of their mouth, saying that they want to protect social security and that making cuts to social security benefits and raising the retirement age is a cut - is important for saving social security," Lenhoff said. "They say that everybody recognizes that social security retirement age must be raised. Really? Everybody?"
Lenhoff noted that the federal government has borrowed $2.6 trillion from the Social Security Reserve Fund.
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