Illinois Public Media News
(With additional reporting from Illinois Public Radio)
The U.S. Justice Department is coming to the defense of Planned Parenthood of Indiana. The state's governor recently signed a law blocking federal money from going to the agency.
Late Thursday, the U.S. Justice Department jumped into the the ongoing legal dispute between Planned Parenthood and the State of Indiana. Planned Parenthood sued Indiana after Gov. Mitch Daniels signed a law last month blocking government funding.
The law is the first of its kind in the country and prevents federal money from going to agencies that perform abortions. That means Planned Parenthood of Indiana won't be getting $3 million.
In the Justice Department's court document, it writes that federal interests are at stake and the judge overseeing the case should block the law. An attorney for Planned Parenthood told The Associated Press that the filing caught him by surprise.
The judge has already said she plans to make her decision by July 1.
The state of Illinois has announced that the deadline to register for group health insurance has been extended to Monday.
Most state and university employees could choose to stay on with their existing health care plans for the next three months. State officials announced Thursday that all HMOs and open access plans will stay in place for 90 days, with Humana being the only holdout. That means most current employees and retirees can stay with their current provider until October, with no further paperwork.
Meanwhile, Human Resources staff at the University of Illinois say the number of calls from employees about the application process has slowed considerably since the contract extensions were announced. U of I Associate Director of Human Resources Administration, Katie Ross, says the questions now are fairly simple, usually asking for primary care physician numbers and codes for an employee's preferred health plan.
And Ross says the Benefit Choice application web site got a boost of additional memory prior to the last time employees registered for health plans.
"It then underwent more testing and we're very confident in that performance," said Ross. "But this is a very unique situation that we're in where so many hits are going to be at the very last minute. We're watching carefully, and we have extra staff assigned."
In total, she says just over half the employees on the Urbana campus opted for a different health plan in the last few weeks. She says her office processed about 3,000 transactions Wednesday.
Things are also slowing down for Human Resources staff at Illinois State University. Khris Clevenger, the Assistant Vice President for Human Resources, says the school in Normal only recently implemented a web-based application process. She says 1,000 of 3,500 employees used the site Thursday with no problems logging on.
A federal judge in Chicago said Wednesday that he will approve a legal settlement allowing thousands of developmentally disabled Illinoisans to move out of institutions, and into smaller, community-based homes.
The agreement could end end six years of legal wrangling, paving the way for some 6,000 developmentally disabled Illinoisans to move out of the larger, institutional settings. Some advocates say those homes do not provide enough independence for some residents. Under a consent decree being considered by U.S. District Judge James F. Holderman, the state of Illinois would have to help developmentally disabled people find smaller homes if they choose to leave the larger institutions.
John Grossbart, the plantinffs' head lawyer, said the consent decree that's expected to be officially approved soon is good news for people who might thrive in a less institutional environment.
"When you wanna turn on the TV and turn off the TV, you can do so," Grossbart said after court Wednesday. "When you wanna get a glass of milk and have a snack at some peculiar time of day, you can do that. Start taking stuff like that away from yourself and see how you feel."
Grossbart said the lawsuit was necessary because Illinois has been dragging its feet when it comes to helping people move into smaller, more independent homes that advocates say let the disabled to grow and ineract more often with the community. As of 2009, only 38 percent of the state's developmentally disabled lived in such homes, according to the 2011 State of the States in Developmental Disabilities, a study by the Unverisity of Colorado that was partially funded by the federal government. That's compared to 75 percent nationwide.
"I'm happy," said Stanley Ligas, 43, the lead plaintiff in the case. "I'm ready to move. Hallelujah, I made it!"
Ligas currently lives in a larger group home setting and has a part-time job, he said. But he added that he's looking forward to being able to work full-time once he moves into a smaller home.
Advocates have launched several lawsuits in recent years aimed at giving Illinois' disabled population more housing options. Last fall, a federal judge approved a similar consent decree that allows for about 4,000 mentally ill Illinoisans to move out of institutions.
In a statement a spokeswoman for the Illinois Department of Human Services said the agency is pleased with the agreement.
"[It] will open up more community-based care options for people with disabilities who choose it," spokeswoman Januari Smith said. "We want to thank everyone who came together to put the needs of people with disabilities first. The department has worked hard to reach a settlement, and will continue to work diligently with all parties involved."
The settlement stipulates that the state must now help people who want to move out of the institutions to find new homes in the smaller, community care settings. The total cost of that placement depends on how many people want to move, Smith said, adding that average cost of a community setting for a full year is about $32,000.
Health Alliance Receives 90-Day Extension
Most state and university employees could choose to stay on with their existing health care plans for the next three months.
The head of the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana says the new Hoosier law that bars funds going to Planned Parenthood may actually lead to more unwanted pregnancies.
Ken Falk submitted the ACLU's final written arguments this week in its case to get $1.2 million in federal funding restored to its client, Planned Parenthood of Indiana.
"If everyone agrees that abortion is not a good thing, then doesn't it make sense to make it easy and to encourage women to get family planning services?" Falk said. "At some point, this is extremely counter-productive, that it is being done here to strip these thousands of woman of their provider of choice."
Falk is also trying to use Indiana's own legal opinions against itself. Prior to the law's passage this spring, Indiana lawmakers received word from the Indiana Legislative Services Agency that the legislation would violate federal guidelines. Federal policy allows eligible Medicaid participants to obtain medical services from providers of their choice.
The head of the federal government's Medicaid program sent a letter along those lines to Indiana's Family and Social Services Administration. The letter stated that Indiana's law is illegal and the state could face penalties if it did not restore Planned Parenthood's funding.
Some 22,000 low-income Hoosier women depend on Medicaid for general and family-planning care. They are affected by Indiana's new law, which bans Medicaid and other funding to any agency that performs abortions. The law also bars abortions after the 20th week of pregnancy.
Falk said the measure is misguided, because federal law already bans Medicaid money being spent on abortions. Planned Parenthood uses Medicaid money to provide family planning and other health services that are not related to abortion.
The Indiana Attorney General's office is defending the law before U.S. District Court Judge Tanya Walton Pratt, who presides in Indianapolis. The state of Indiana contends the court fight should be between the federal government and the state, and should not involve Planned Parenthood and the ACLU. Pratt is expected to rule on the ACLU's injunction request by July 1st.
Falk said if funding isn't restored soon, Planned Parenthood may lay off employees. So far, the organization has stayed afloat because private donors around the country have contributed more than $100,000.
Indiana Gov. Mich Daniels said he supports the law since most Hoosiers oppose abortion.
(With additional reporting by Pam Dempsey/CU-CitizenAccess)
The term "food desert' has gained traction in recent years as a name for areas with a shortage of full-service food stores. But it's not clear how big a role they play in the lives of people who struggle to get the food they need. As part of the series "Life on Route 150," Illinois Public Media's Jim Meadows visited the Piatt County town of Mansfield. The people there have enough to eat, but they have to travel to get it.
Prior to Tuesday's vote by the the Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability, University of Illinois employees were asking a number of questions with the Friday open enrollment deadline quickly approaching.
As things stand now, state workers and retirees still have until Friday to choose a health insurance plan. At one of the last outreach sessions on the Urbana campus, employees were being advised to choose the one they want, although they could still be defaulted into the Quality Care Health Plan option at the deadline.
One employee, Becky Heller, said her biggest concern is being allowed to change her mind if a better choice becomes available.
"They're not letting us know whether that's a guarantee or not," Heller said. "They're saying they think that they'll open enrollment again, and they think that they'll let us switch if things change, but they're not guaranteeing that. So we very well may be stuck with whatever we choose for an entire year."
Heller said she may have to consider an HMO plan in a nearby county and find a new doctor, but would still be paying lower premiums than what is in the Quality Care plan.
Employee Kathryn Smith said her concern is the state's backlog of bills, and the time it takes hospitals to be reimbursed.
"I don't know if any business in this country today that has its doors open if it's creditors don't pay them within a year," Smith said. "I'm a little concerned that our hospitals aren't going to survive this if we are left on this Quality Care Health Plan."
Brenda Butts is assistant director of University Payroll and Benefits at the U of I's Urbana campus. She said even if an employee chooses an option they ultimately cannot enroll in, Butts said she believes the state will benefit by simply seeing how many have opted for a particular plan, or 'voted' for it.
(With additional reporting from Illinois Public Media)
A Sangamon County judge's ruling last week threw health insurance enrollment for state and university employees and retirees into chaos, but people concerned about their health care options may see some reprieve.
A bipartisan legislative panel on Tuesday authorized the use of 90-day emergency health plans, which could include current insurers. That means those with Health Alliance, Humana and various Open Access Plans should be able to remain with those providers temporarily.
Still undecided, however, is which health care providers will be available for that period. That decision is up to Healthcare and Family Services Director Julie Hamos. She said all current providers will be welcome to the negotiations, which she said will start immediately and be finalized before Friday's open enrollment deadline.
That is the deadline for individuals to pick new medical insurance coverage. Janice Bonneville is in charge state employees' medical benefits. She said given the time crunch, she needs to be able to tell workers what to do.
"If we can make some additional adjustments and send information out to members through the group insurance representatives, through our website, through their unions to tell them that additional options are available we will do that," Bonneville said. "But right now the glass is half empty. I'm trying to get it half full."
It is unclear what happens when the three-month emergency health plans expire. They could be extended while the courts work through the issue, but there is no guarantee. Officials are considering an additional benefit enrollment period later this fall.
State Senator Mike Frerichs (D-Champaign) sits on the Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability, which gave the green light for the 90-day contracts. Frerichs said the vote is a good solution for now, but he said he would like to see Governor Pat Quinn sign legislation that he sponsored to continue existing coverage for the next couple of years.
"I think this is a good short-term solution to a problem that was kind of created by the courts," Frerichs said. "Going forward, I'd like to see my bill signed, but I think it's been made fairly clear that the governor does not intend to sign that."
Frerichs urges state employees who are concerned about their health insurance to pick a plan by Friday, but to wait first to find out which providers will be available.
Health Alliance released a statement Tuesday, saying it will be an option for state employees as early as Wednesday:
"However, as of this writing, CMS has not agreed to any extension of the Benefit Choice Period. Therefore, if you want to stay with Health Alliance but you made another selection, you will have to act quickly. As soon as Health Alliance is available as an option, you'll have to make a switch back to Health Alliance. And that switch will have to be made before the June 17 deadline."
To get updated information about benefit choice options leading up to Friday's open enrollment deadline, visit benefitschoice.IL.gov
A state legislative commission could vote Tuesday afternoon on a proposal to allow emergency contracts to be drawn up to provide short-term health care plans for state employees.
The Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability will meet in Chicago, and the short-term contracts are on the agenda. The measure would authorize the use of 90-day health plan contracts based on current programs that expire June 30th.
A Sangamon County judge's order on Friday, June 10, put a stay on two open access plans on the menu of new health insurance plans for state workers. The state Department of Healthcare and Family Services is appealing the stay, which continues while a judge considers lawsuits filed by Health Alliance and Humana.
Without the Open Access Plans plans --- or any emergency replacements --- state workers will have to choose between the state's more expensive Quality Care health plan, and two HMO plans that serve just 38 counties: Boone, Christian, Cook, DeKalb, DuPage, Fulton, Kane, Kankakee, Kendall, Lake, Logan, Macoupin, Madison, Marshall, McHenry, Menard, Monroe, Morgan, Ogle, Peoria, Randolph, Saint Clair, Sangamon, Tazewell, Will, Winnebago and Woodford.
Spokesperson Alka Nayyar of the state Department of Central Management Services said state workers have until the end of the business day on Friday, June 17 to choose new health plans. But because of the judge's stay, the options are limited.
"So currently, until such time as the trial court's order is reversed or superseded --- or emergency contracts can be completed, the only enrollment options for members are HMO Illinois, Blue Advantage HMO, or the Quality Care health plan, which is done through CIGNA," Nayyar said.
CoGFA member and State Senator Mike Frerichs (D-Champaign) said the contracts on the commission agenda could create more temporary health contract options.
"This anticipated vote --- at this point we don't know exactly what's going to happen --- but this anticipated vote would give the department the flexibility to go out and negotiate 90-day emergency healthcare contracts, and it would mostly likely be with current health care providers," Frerichs said.
But State Senator Jeff Schoenberg (D-Chicago), who is the commission's co-chairman, said the panel may not be a necessary gatekeeper for that decision either.
"The director has the authority to issue emergency 90-day contracts," Schoenberg said.
That would be Director of Healthcare and Familiy Services Julie Hamos, who will be at the meeting to present those options and elicit input from commission members.
If nothing changes in the next few days, state employees and retirees can expect far fewer choices when picking out a new health plan.
Whatever the options, the University of Illinois is telling its employees to choose a health care plan by Friday, June 17th. The U of I says employees could still choose one of the open access plans --- in the hopes that new court action will make them available before the week is over. However, if the plans remain unavailable, the university says those employees would automatically be put under the Quality Care Plan.
State officials say workers should check the CMS Benefits Choice website frequently for updates, under "State Employee Insurance and Benefit Programs.
(UPDATE: This story has been updated to reflect new info from the University of Illinois, the Department of Central Management Services and the Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability).
State employees in Illinois are left with uncertain choices for their health insurance plan.
A judge's order on Friday put a stay on two open access plans on the menu of new health insurance plans for state workers. The state Department of Healthcare and Family Services is appealing the stay, which was sought by Health Alliance and Humana, two health care companies whose plans were rejected. But in the meantime, Alka Nayyar of the state Department of Central Management Services says employees have until the end of business this Friday to choose among the plans that remain.
"Currently, until such time as the trial court's order is reversed or superseded --- or emergency contracts can be completed --- the only enrollment options for members are HMO Illinois, Blue Advantage HMO, or the Quality Care health plan, which is done through CIGNA," Nayyar said.
The two HMO plans are only available in 38 Illinois counties. According to Nayyar, those counties are: Boone, Christian, Cook, DeKalb, DuPage, Fulton, Kane, Kankakee, Kendall, Lake, Logan, Macoupin, Madison, Marshall, McHenry, Menard, Monroe, Morgan, Ogle, Peoria, Randolph, Saint Clair, Sangamon, Tazewell, Will, Winnebago and Woodford.
This list is substantially different from one released by CMS a few weeks ago. For instance, Macon and DeWitt Counties, which were previously listed as being covered by the two new HMO plans, are not on the latest list.
The other plan, Quality Care is more expensive--it's the one workers get automatically if they don't make a choice this week.
A notice sent out by the University of Illinois says employees may still choose the PersonalCare or HealthLink open access plans, if they live in a county where the plans are available. But the U of I's Human Resources office says they will only receive the coverage if a change is made by the state to un-block those plans. Otherwise, those employees will automatically be placed in the Quality Care plan.
An emergency contract could be another option. If such a plan is confirmed, it would be a short-term health care plan--perhaps for 90 days--that would be added to the health plan menu this week. The legislative Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability will discuss emergency health insurance contracts at its meeting Tuesday at 12 PM in Chicago.
But whatever the options, the University of Illinois is telling its employees to choose a health care plan by Friday, June 17th.
State officials says workers should check the CMS Benefits Choice website frequently for updates, under "State Employee Insurance and Benefit Programs.
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