Illinois Public Media News
An Illinois Appellate Court has upheld a Sangamon County judge's ruling, preventing the state from moving ahead with new health insurance contracts for state employees and retirees.
In June, a Sangamon County Circuit Judge prevented Illinois' Department of Healthcare and Family Services from dropping Urbana-based Health Alliance, leaving the health insurance policies of thousands of state workers into doubt.
Gov. Pat Quinn's administration argued the so-called 'open access' plans will save the state about $100 million a year. Health Alliance then filed suit. The 90-day extensions of current contracts granted by the Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability are set to expire in September.
In its ruling, the 4th District Appellate Court said the state ignored a decision by that group. Champaign Senator Mike Frerichs is part of the bipartisan legislative commission. While the court's decision does not immediately impact state workers, he said it gives more fuel to additional extensions, and hopefully a long-term solution.
"I think what employees want is to be able to continue access to their health care providers, and I'm hopeful this ruling will help us get to that point," Frerichs said.
In a statement, Health Alliance CEO Jeff Ingrum called the court's ruling encouraging, with hopes that it leads to the provider remaining an option for state workers and retirees.
"This is good news for all of those who fought so hard to keep Health Alliance," Ingrum said. "We hope it leads to Health Alliance remaining an option for state workers and retirees."
The Department of Healthcare and Family Services said the state is reviewing its legal options following the court ruling.
"We remain confident in the process of awarding and contracting with the winning vendors as well as their ability to offer quality healthcare at a price that will save the state money during these tough fiscal times," said Mike Claffey, spokesman for the Department of Healthcare and Family Services.
At a COGFA hearing scheduled for Aug. 16 in Chicago, the panel will vote on extending the current insurance contracts through June 30, 2012. Three days later, the state will argue before the Sangamon County Judge that blocked the new contracts whether COGFA has the authority to extend the current ones.
Concussions experts are working to raise awareness about brain injury symptoms ahead of new Illinois legislation aimed at preventing affected student athletes from resuming play too soon.
About 100 coaches, trainers and athletic directors from around Illinois gathered at an awareness-raising symposium Wednesday at Northwestern Memorial Hospital. Doctors there urged them to spread the word about concussion symptoms to parents and players involved in contact sports.
Gov. Pat Quinn is expected to sign legislation Thursday requiring student athletes with concussions to get medical approval before resuming play.
Hall of Famer Dan Hampton told the forum that times have changed from his football days, when in his words, "the more barbaric it was, the better.'' He says he embraces the law, and that young athletes should, too.
Illinois is joining a growing number of states making oral chemotherapy treatments more affordable.
For years, cancer drugs were usually injected. But scientific advances have made oral treatment possible, and in many cases, preferred. The problem is they usually come with a higher cost and insurance policies will not always pick up the tab.
Governor Pat Quinn has signed a law that will require health coverage of both types of treatment at a similar cost to the patient. Supporters of the new law say it will improve the quality of care patients receive.
"As an oncologist, I see firsthand the struggles cancer patients go through as they fight this devastating disease," said Dr. Katherine Griem, chair of the American Cancer Society's Illinois chapter. "One thing they shouldn't have to struggle with is how they get the treatment they need."
Griem said the law, which will take effect in January, will give those fighting cancer one less thing to worry about.
Oral chemotherapy drugs are preferred for certain types of cancer. They are also part of the growing trend of so called 'smart drugs" that are designed to attack only cancer cells, which better protects the immune system. Griem said smart drugs target the cancer and have been found to result in fewer side effects. While they come with a higher price tag, they can also reduce therapy time and save on long term medical costs.
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.
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