Illinois Public Media News

AP - Illinois Public Media News - May 24, 2011

Ethics Commission Upholds Decision to Drop Health Alliance HMO, Humana

Ethics Commission Upholds Decision to Drop Health Alliance HMO, Humana

There's disappointing news for state and university employees and retirees who had been holding out hope Illinois would continue to offer Health Alliance and Humana health insurance.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - May 23, 2011

Location Device for Autistic Children Would Connect with 911

Searching for lost children and seniors may be a little easier under a plan state legislators sent to Governor Pat Quinn.

It's a small wristband and fastens just like a watch, but instead of telling the time, a small microchip inside acts like a GPS system. They are worn by people prone to wandering off like autistic children or someone with Alzheimer's.

Lawmakers voted to allow the device to patch in directly to 911, an exemption not many other private alarm companies enjoy. The wristband itself could call police when a person goes missing. Carol Stream Republican Senator John Millner said a single cop can find the missing person, rather having to activate a whole search squad.

"With this device here, its simply one call, one activation and we would be able to find that person swiftly, saving money, saving time," Millner said.

But Rockford Republican Dave Syverson voted against it. Only one business in the state, Murphysboro-based Care Trak, currently makes the devices.

"For one company we're setting up that they can go to 911 direct, but for burglaries, and for seniors, they still run through the private sector," Syverson said.

Syverson said if the state gives this company an exemption, other alarm systems will want the same perk.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - May 23, 2011

Lawmakers Hold Hearing on State Health Insurance Contracts

State legislators continue to give state employees a venue to air their grievances about the potential loss of their health care plan.

Members of the Senate Insurance Committee met Monday, and heard from about a dozen university workers and state employees whose HMO is Urbana-based Health Alliance.

Officials with the Department of Health Care and Family Services decided in May to end Illinois' 30-year relationship with Health Alliance, saying it would award HMO contracts for the next fiscal year to Blue Cross Blue Shield, with Open Access Plan contracts to PersonalCare and HealthLink.

The state estimates the new contracts would save taxpayers over $100 million a year, and over one billion dollars over the next ten years.

"This decision to drop Health Alliance is about more than bureaucratic procedure, state contracts, or budget numbers," State Senator Mike Frerichs (D-Champaign) said. "It's about potentially disrupted care, loss of long-standing patient-doctor relationships, and lack of access to quality health care at an affordable cost for tens of thousands of people in downstate Illinois."

State Senator John Jones (R-Mount Vernon) made an ultimatum to Governor Pat Quinn and Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services Director Julie Hamos. Jones said he may hold off on voting for certain pieces of legislation until the Health Alliance controversy is solved.

"There's a lot of major legislation that needs to be passed in the next few days, including a budget. It's time that all of us said, 'Hey governor, and Director Hamos, if you want that done, you better take care of this first," he said.

Officials from from the University of Illinois, Health Alliance, and Humana testified before the committee. However, there were no representatives present from from the Governor's Office or the Department of Healthcare and Family Services.

Humana Illinois also had its contract dropped.

One of the biggest gripes has been the dearth of facts leading up to the state's decision.

"It's shocking the lack of transparency and information when you're talking about a topic like health insurance and the magnitude of the cost," Humana Illinois Dave Reynolds said.

But health department officials say they are just following the law.

"We've had to be very conservative in what we can tell the public, legislators and even the press so as to not violate the strict ethical rules in the process," Healthcare and Family Services spokeswoman Stacey Solano said.

Solano said as soon as there is a ruling by a state ethics commission on Health Alliance and Humana's objections, the administration will be able to explain its decision. She said that should put to rest employees' fears and anxiety, which she said are "being fed by misinformation."

The Committee of Government Forecasting and Accountability (COGFA) is set to meet Wednesday, May 25 to discuss the matter.

Attorney General Lisa Madigan recently ruled it is not within lawmakers' power to approve or deny the contracts in question.

Categories: Government, Health, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - May 20, 2011

Lawmakers Weigh Options on State Health Insurance Contract

Many of the 100,000 state and university employees covered by Health Alliance HMO are outraged at the possibility they will have to switch plans and doctors and possibly pay more.

The Attorney General has issued an opinion that clarifies what legislators can do about it. Legislators continue to fight back against the decision to drop Health Alliance as an option for employee medical coverage.

The Attorney General's opinion says the legislature has no say over that. But the opinion does make clear a bipartisan legislative commission can authorize or reject if Illinois acts as a self-insurer.

The state has a self-funded, Open Access Plan now. Republican Representative Chad Hays of Catlin said employees will have no choice but to sign up for it because the new HMO choice, Blue Cross Blue Shield, doesn't have a downstate network of doctors.

"There simply is not an HMO option in most of downstate Illinois, so by definition we are going to push people into an open access plan," Hays said.

The commission could then say that with so many added people, it's unaffordable for the state to offer self-funded insurance, and reject offering one completely. That may send the issue into a tailspin, with potentially no managed care option, something the state must provide. It would pit legislators who want to keep Health Alliance, against Governor Pat Quinn. His administration says dropping Health Alliance will save the state money. The insurance firm disputes that claim.

The Department of Healthcare and Family Services says it's 100 percent confident in its decision and promises that will become clear once it allowed to release more details.

The state can't do that now because Urbana-based Health Alliance is protesting the bid process.

In the meantime Hays has filed a resolution asking that the state extend until September how long employees have to choose what health insurance they want for the next year.

Categories: Government, Health, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - May 19, 2011

Planned Parenthood of Ind. Extends Needy Services

Planned Parenthood of Indiana says it will continue serving Medicaid patients through at least May 30 after receiving more than $50,000 in recent donations from 44 states and overseas.

The organization said in a statement Thursday that it hopes to continue services beyond May 30.

It says donors are responding to a new Indiana law removing much of its public funding. It's earmarking the money for Pap tests, breast exams, testing for sexually transmitted diseases and other health care for 9,300 Medicaid patients at its 28 health centers across Indiana.

A federal judge has set a June 6 hearing on Planned Parenthood's request for an injunction blocking the new state law signed last week by Gov. Mitch Daniels. She has said she'll rule on the matter by July 1.

Categories: Government, Health, Politics

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - May 18, 2011

Construction Begins on Carle Heart and Vascular Institute

Carle Foundation Hospital has begun construction on a building that will focus primarily on heart and vascular care.

The nine-story Carle Heart and Vascular Institute, located on the hospital's campus, will include eight catheterization labs and upgrades to technology. The facility will also house intensive care beds that are currently located in buildings constructed in the 1960s and 1970s.

"We have a real need here to improve our facilities," Carle CEO James Leonard said. "We have fantastic technical capabilities. We have great people, but we're really out of space. The demand continues to increase for all cardiovascular care, both around heart attacks as well as strokes."

During a dedication ceremony Wednesday, the Institute's medical director, Matt Gibb, emphasized the center's role in treating health conditions that can worsen over time, such as a stroke, diabetes, or a heart attack.

"The tower will be a true environment for healing," Gibb said. "It will be a place where we can help patients prevent and beat heart disease, and also return to normal life following an event like a heart attack."

Hospital officials estimate the center will have a $100 million impact on the local economy, and create up to 150 jobs during the two years it takes to construct the building.

The $220 million project, which was approved by the state in 2010, will be financed with cash and the sale of bonds.

It is scheduled to be completed in 2013.

(Design courtesy of Carle Foundation Hospital)

Categories: Business, Health, Technology

AP - Illinois Public Media News - May 13, 2011

Ind. Planned Parenthood Extends Imperiled Services

Planned Parenthood of Indiana says it will cover the health care costs of current Medicaid patients for at least another week after losing much of its public funding under a new state law.

The reproductive health care organization said Friday donations will allow it to extend care at least through May 21. Spokeswoman Kate Shepherd says it's received donations from at least 36 states since April 26, the day before the Legislature passed a law to withhold the Medicaid funding.

A federal judge refused this week to temporarily block the law while Planned Parenthood fights it.

Planned Parenthood says it serves about 9,300 Medicaid patients at its 28 Indiana clinics. It's not accepting new Medicaid patients while the court battle continues and some services are being put off until later.


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - May 12, 2011

U of I Professor’s Study Links Obesity to Surge in Vehicle Use

A study spearheaded by a University of Illinois professor shows a link between time spent behind the wheel and U.S. obesity rates.

In Sheldon Jacobson's research, he and two students looked at national statistics from 1985 through 2007, and learned that vehicle use correlated in the 99-percent range with national obesity rates. The professor of computer science who also holds appointments in engineering and pediatrics says it's a result of the constraints many adults have in their everyday life.

"Over the last half century, we have built our entire infrastructure around getting more done with less time," said Jacobson. "And the natural choice that individuals make then is to take the mode of transportation that will get us from Point A to Point B as quickly as possible."

Jacobson says if every motorist in the U.S. drove 1 mile less per day, the obesity rate would drop just over 2-percent in six years. The professor also says he's convinced that so-called tactical interventions, like removing soda machines from schools and adding recess time aren't enough. He says the study shows a direct association between energy, transportation, urban planning, and public health.

His study appears in the journal 'Transport Policy.


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - May 12, 2011

Abortion Debate Rages in Indiana

Indiana is the nation's first state to bar federal Medicaid funding for abortion providers, and Planned Parenthood was squarely in legislators' sights. A federal judge this week denied an injunction to keep the law from taking affect. The law has stirred up emotions in the abortion debate. Illinois Public Radio's Michael Puente went to hear from both sides in the declining industrial city of Gary in Northwest Indiana.

(Photo by Michael Puente/IPR)

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Categories: Government, Health, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - May 11, 2011

Judge Allows Ind. to Cut Planned Parenthood Funds

Indiana won a key victory in its fight to cut off public funding for Planned Parenthood Wednesday when a federal judge refused to block a tough new abortion law from taking effect.

U.S. District Judge Tanya Walton Pratt denied Planned Parenthood of Indiana's request for a temporary restraining order despite arguments that the law jeopardizes health care for thousands of women.

Planned Parenthood wanted to keep funds flowing while it challenges the law signed this week by Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels. The judge's decision allows the cuts to take effect immediately.

Pratt said the state has not had enough time to respond to Planned Parenthood's complaint and that the group did not show it would suffer irreparable harm without a temporary restraining order.

The funding cuts are part of a new law that also bans abortions after the 20th week of pregnancy unless there is a substantial threat to the woman's life or health.

The law could improve Daniels' image with social conservatives as he considers a 2012 run for president. Advocates are touting Indiana as the one of the most "pro-life states in the nation" and praising Daniels for signing the law.

The bill was originally intended to cut all public funding, but Planned Parenthood of Indiana spokeswoman Kate Shepard said the state conceded in court Tuesday that some family planning funds would not be affected. The total amount of funding at issue now is about $1.4 million, Shepard said.

The law also puts Indiana at risk of losing $4 million a year in separate federal family planning grants. It also bans abortions after the 20th week of pregnancy unless there is a substantial threat to the woman's life or health. That's four weeks less than previously allowed.

The abortion provisions would take effect July 1.

Categories: Government, Health, Politics

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