Illinois Public Media News
Newly-released health rankings offer a mixed bag for east central Illinois counties.
The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, in conjunction with the University of Wisconsin, has released County Health Rankings for the state of Illinois, which rank the 102 Illinois counties according to a variety of health factors and outcomes.
Champaign County ranked relatively high on the list, at 26th in the state; but Vermilion County fared much lower, at 95th.
Vermilion County Health Department Public Health Administrator Shirley Hicks suggests leaders and the public should use the information in the rankings to "build a healthier community."
Douglas County received the 7th highest ranking in the state, by far the best among East Central Illinois counties.
A wide range of measurements determine the rankings - they include access to medical care, graduation rates, unemployment, crime rates, air quality, and access to healthy foods, among many other factors.
This is the third year these rankings have been released.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture this year unveiled new nutrition standards for school meals. It's the first major nutritional overhaul of its kind in more than 15 years. As part of our series on efforts in the region to increase health and wellness, Illinois Public Media's Sean Powers reports on how the Champaign School District is trying to stay ahead of new federal regulations taking affect this year and beyond.
If state regulators approve, the Danville HealthCare outpatient surgery center will become a unit of Provena United Samaritans Medical Center.
The Danville hospital has applied to acquire the facility, and hospital officials expect the state Health and Facilities Planning Board to hear their case in June.
United Samaritans spokeswoman Gretchen Wesner said having a freestanding outpatient facility will give them more flexibility in treating patients.
"It's often less expansive for a patient to have a procedure at a freestanding center rather than at a hospital," Wedner said. "Their co-pay may be lower if it's a procedure that can be done outside the hospital."
In addition, Wesner said the acquisition would put Danville HealthCare under the hospital's charity care guidelines --- allowing some of the clinic's patents to receive care without charge.
For physicians, Wesner said access to a free-standing outpatient facility will make coming to United Samaritans more attractive.
"Because doctors often like performing procedures in there," Wesner said. "They can be efficient with the way they schedule. We also can bring in specialists that can come and do procedures at a surgery center, without being on our medical staff."
Danville Healthcare is one of three freestanding outpatient surgery centers in the Danville area. In addition, Provena United Samaritans operates an Ambulatory Care Unit at the hospital. Wesner said that facility will continue.
The National Federation of Independent Business was one of the plaintiffs arguing against the healthcare law before the U.S. Supreme Court. Kim Maisch is the Illinois director of the organization. Mishe said her group wants healthcare reform, but they don't think it's necessary to require everyone to buy health insurance.
As arguments over the constitutionality of the federal health care law continue at the Supreme Court, one local supporter of the law is pointing out its benefits. The group Champaign County Health Care Consumers said even though the law has not been fully implemented, it's already helping the people they serve. Illinois Public Media's Jim Meadows spoke with Health Care Consumers executive director Claudia Lennhoff. She had supported a single payer healthcare system, but Lennhoff said the law now in place goes a long way towards improving healthcare coverage in America.
While the Supreme Court hears arguments on the federal health care law this week, one of its local supporters argues that the law is already providing benefits.
Full implementation of the Affordable Care Act is still two years away. But Claudia Lennoff of Champaign County Healthcare Consumers said some benefits are helping people now.
She said that thanks to the law, her organization no longer hears stories from people whose health insurance has been rescinded due to a particular health event, like a newly diagnosed disease.
"One lady, who I remember, who had just gotten diagnosed with cancer tumors in her brain; and all of a sudden, when she was just about to start receiving treatment, she was noticed that her health plan, and she would not be covered for that. And then was scrambling to get health insurance," Lennoff said. "So we don't see those kind of cases any more, thank goodness. "
In addition to providing help to those already insured, Lennoff said the federal health care law is also bringing more uninsured people to her office. She said people who were barred from coverage due to the cost or a pre-existing condition now have new opportunities for coverage.
Lennoff said she's optimistic that the benefits of the federal health care law will survive a challenge before the Supreme Court --- even if the "individual mandate" requiring all Americans to buy health insurance is struck down.
African-American women with breast cancer in Chicago are more likely to die of their disease than white women.
Now a new study by Chicago researchers finds that the disparity is a widespread problem in major cities. A team from the Sinai Urban Health Institute calculated the race gap in breast cancer mortality for the nation's 25 biggest cities, and found that more than half of them have a significant disparity.
"In the United States the number of deaths that occur each year because of the disparity, not because of [just] breast cancer, is 1,700," said Steven Whitman, director of the Institute. "That's about five a day."
Chicago was among the worst cities, with black women in the city 61 percent more likely to die than white women. Memphis had the largest disparity, and three other cities fared worse than Chicago: Denver, Houston and Los Angeles. All of the data are based on the years 2005-2007.
The study authors have connections with the Metropolitan Breast Cancer Task Force, whose research indicates that societal factors - "racism," as Whitman bluntly put it - are mainly responsible for the disparity. Task force members say unequal access to screening mammograms is largely to blame, and point out that Illinois' program providing screening to low-income women is nearly broke. Other public health researchers note that genetics likely plays a significant role in the race gap as well.
The study was funded by the Avon Foundation and published in the journal Cancer Epidemiology.
Indiana's first statewide smoking restrictions have been signed into law by Gov. Mitch Daniels.
The governor signed the smoking ban bill and other legislation during a ceremony Monday at his Statehouse office. The smoking ban proposal narrowly cleared the state Senate this month after compromises expanding the number of exemptions were added to the bill over the objections of health advocates.
Daniels says that although everyone might not have been happy with the bill, it was best to get something approved while lawmakers had the "energy'' to handle the issue.
The ban that is to take effect in July will still give people plenty of places to light up as it exempts Indiana's bars, casinos, retail tobacco shops and private clubs, such as veterans and fraternal organizations.
U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk got a phone call from the Senate's top Republican wishing him well in his recovery from a January stroke.
Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky called Kirk on Wednesday at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago, where Kirk is recovering.
McConnell says he assured his colleague their staffs were working together to represent the interests of Illinois in the Senate.
He says Kirk was eager to discuss policy during the call, especially his push to tighten sanctions on Iran in response to its nuclear work.
McConnell says the Senate is looking forward to having him back.
Doctors have said the 52-year-old Kirk should make a full mental recovery, although they expect the stroke will limit movement on his left side.
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.
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