Illinois Public Media News
Officials at an Illinois company that lost a bid for state employees' insurance contracts say they're not surprised by an audit critical of the procurement process.
The state audit was released Wednesday. It finds serious problems with the way Illinois awarded $7 billion in contracts for state workers' health insurance.
A spokeswoman for Urbana-based Health Alliance says many of the auditor's findings were pointed out in the company's original protest of the procurement.
The audit comes as the state is settling a lawsuit by Health Alliance over the contracts.
Health Alliance spokeswoman Jocelyn Browning says the company is focused on submitting a bid in a new request for proposals that's part of the settlement being worked out.
Health Alliance insures about 90,000 state employees and their dependents.
Gov. Mitch Daniels says he's prepared to accept a weakened smoking ban if that's what it takes to get something approved before he leaves office.
Daniels said Friday he still prefers a version passed by House lawmakers that would exempt Indiana's gambling industry, private clubs and tobacco and cigar stores from the ban. But Senate lawmakers greatly weakened the measure this week by cutting bars out of the proposed ban and expanding the exemptions approved by the House.
House and Senate negotiators are scheduled to meet Monday to hash out a compromise. The Senate approved a statewide smoking ban for the first time this week after years of House lawmakers approving bans only to see them die in the Senate.
Daniels included the smoking ban in his 2012 legislative agenda.
The Illinois Department of Revenue says it's prepared to move swiftly on decisions about which not-for-profit hospitals deserve tax breaks.
Those hospitals waiting for a decision include Carle and Provena Hospitals in Urbana, and Decatur Memorial Hospital.
The state had held off making any decisions since fall while it, hospitals, and consumer health advocates negotiated how much charity do not for profit hospitals have to provide in order to get out of paying property taxes.
But they failed to reach an agreement by Governor Pat Quinn's March First deadline.
So the department is going to resume issuing rulings. Revenue spokeswoman Sue Hofer says a backlog of up to 18 cases has built up in the interim. She says that will decrease, as decisions are made by the end of this month.
"We look forward to doing our job and making decisions, so that both the entities that we're determining about, and the local governments will have closure on how much money they can expect to gain in taxes, or how much money they may have to pay in taxes," Hofer said.
Hofer says the constitution and court precedence establish what hospitals have to do to qualify. But the state hospital association's Danny Chun says the standards aren't clear, even though big money's at stake.
"In some cases it could be millions of dollars a year, it just depends on the property that's being looked at," said Chun.
He says money spent paying a local tax bill is money that's not going to health care.
The Indiana Senate has approved a severely weakened smoking ban with exemptions for bars, casinos, tobacco stores and many other businesses.
The 29-21 vote Wednesday sets up final negotiations with House lawmakers as anti-smoking activists and health groups look to salvage the ban in the waning days of the 2012 session.
The Senate proposal would ban smoking in most private businesses. But the measure exempts bars and taverns, the state's expansive gambling industry, private clubs, cigar and tobacco stores, veterans' homes and nursing homes and a handful of others.
Supporters of a ban said the bill wasn't perfect but voted in favor of it in hopes they could hash out a stronger ban in a conference committee with House lawmakers, who have passed a more restrictive version.
Health Alliance, Humana Given 2nd Chance on State Employee Plans
(With additional reporting from Illinois Public Radio)
Action by a state legislative panel Tuesday will give two health insurance providers the chance to submit new proposals for healthcare packages for state employees.
Illinois Sen. Mark Kirk is continuing to improve after a major stroke and has been upgraded to fair condition.
Northwestern Memorial Hospital neurosurgeon Richard Fessler says Kirk is alert, talking and responding well to questions.
The Chicago hospital released a statement Monday about Kirk's progress, a little more than a week after he suffered a stroke that's affected his left side.
Fessler says doctors are very pleased with Kirk's progress.
Kirk is 52 and was in good health when he was stricken.
Doctors believe a clot developed from a tear in an artery in his neck and lodged in his brain. Doctors removed part of his skull to relieve pressure and allow the brain to swell.
Illinois Senator Shane Cultra says the State High School Association needs to be more flexible in allowing student athletes to play football.
A bill sponsored by the Onarga Republican opposes IHSA rules, mandating that a student participate in a minimum of 12 practices before they can play in a game, even if that student was away for military training. The Senator's bill would provide a waiver to those students who recently completed basic training.
Cultra's bill was filed after a senior at Paxton-Buckley-Loda High School, Eddie Nuss, was declared ineligible to play his season opener for that reason. Cultra understands the IHSA's concerns about health risks, but says his measure would have safeguards.
"Let the staff of the school examine the student athlete when they come back," he said. "And if they're in great shape, and they think they're probably able to play without the required number of practices, then they're going to make a recommendation to the school board, who would then give them a waiver for how many practices they missed."
IHSA Executive Director Marty Hickman says research shows military training doesn't necessarily mean a student is acclimated to play football - citing 5 students who died in practice in the US around the country last year due to heat-related illness. He says schools boards aren't medically qualified to make such a call.
"There's quite a bit of research that indicates regardless of the condition a kid comes to the football practice, that they need to be acclimated to play football," Hickman said. "That takes time. Our physicians, our trainers, that our sports medicine advisory committee says that takes at least 12 days."
Physicians on the IHSA's sports medicine advisory committee say it takes 12 to 14 days of practice before a student is ready to play football. Hickman expects those doctors to bring testimony to Springfield if the bill is debated this year.
Michael Pollan thinks of himself as a writer, a professor...and eater. But many people would call him a food activist. The author of controversial books like "The Omnivore's Dilemma" and "In Defense of Food," Pollan is known for his vivid critiques of industrial agriculture and the modern American diet. He recently spoke with Illinois Public Radio's Véronique LaCapra about his views on food and agriculture - starting with what he sees as a healthy diet.
(Photo courtesy of Ken Light)
Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels says President Obama isn't responsible for America's fiscal and economic crises.
But in the Republican response to the State of the Union speech Tuesday night, Daniels says the President has failed to deliver on a promise to fix these conditions.
The Governor says Obama has put the country on a course to make it radically worse in the years ahead, while the federal government borrows one of every three dollars it spends.
"The President's grand experiment in trickle-down government has held back rather than sped economic recovery," Daniels said. "He seems to sincerely believe we can build a middle class out of government jobs paid for with borrowed dollars. In fact, it works the other way: a government as big and bossy as this one is maintained on the backs of the middle class, and those who hope to join it."
Daniels says Republicans did credit the President for his aggressive pursuit of terrorists with ties to 9-11, and what he calls 'long overdue changes' in public education.
But he also accused Obama of attacking Republicans in Congress as obstacles as the country looks for ways to reform the tax system. Daniels also says Obama has cancelled plans that could have helped the economy, citing his decision to delay construction of the Keystone XL pipeline.
"The extremism that stifles the development of homegrown energy, or cancels a perfectly safe pipeline that would employ tens of thousands, or jacks up consumer utility bills for no improvement in either human health or world temperature, is a pro-poverty policy," Daniels said.
Daniels says he favors a simpler tax system of 'fewer loopholes and lower rates', and maximizing on domestic energy policies, calling them the 'best break our economy has gotten in years.'
Gov. Daniels, who had considered a presidential run himself last year, also said the safety net of Medicare and Social Security need some repairs for the next generation.
(With additional reporting from The Associated Press)
U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), 52, has suffered a stroke and has undergone surgery.
Kirk checked himself into Lake Forest Hospital in Illinois on Saturday. He was later transferred to Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago, where tests revealed that he had suffered a stroke.
Doctors say the stroke occurred on the right side of Kirk's brain, which controls movement of the left arm and left leg. A statement from Kirk's office said he had a tear in the carotid artery on the right side of his neck. Carotid arteries carry blood to the brain. He underwent surgery early Monday morning to relieve brain swelling.
Kirk is in intensive care, but doctors say they are happy with his status, noting that the Senator appeared to recognize those around him and respond to commands.
A statement from Kirk's office said the surgery was successful and that doctors are "very confident'' in his recovery based on his age and health.
Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) released a statement, saying he expects Kirk will make a speedy recovery.
"I was stunned to learn that Mark suffered a stroke," Durbin said. "I have reached out to his staff and offered to do anything I can to help with his Senate duties."
Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn also issued a statement about Kirk's condition:
"Our heartfelt thoughts and prayers go out to the senator and his family as we wish him a swift and strong recovery. We can all take comfort knowing that as a Navy commander, Sen. Kirk knows how to fight and he will fight through this to return to his work on behalf of the people of Illinois as quickly as possible."
Kirk at times exaggerated his record in the Navy Reserves. He incorrectly said he had been named intelligence officer of the year and took part in the invasion of Iraq. He said he came under fire while on a military flight but wouldn't provide details and stopped making the claim when questioned about it.
"I'm not perfect. I made a mistake and then apologized," Kirk said in a 2010 interview with The Associated Press. "Going forward, the question we have and the choice we make as to who our senator is has a lot less to do with what happened in the 20th century and a lot more with what's happening in the 21st century."
Kirk ended up filling President Barack Obama's old Senate seat in 2010, defeating Democrat Alexi Giannoulias in a close race. Kirk previous served in the U.S. House of Representatives for about 10 years.
He is divorced and has no children.
(Photo by Sean Powers/WILL)
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