Illinois Public Media News
NOTE: This story was updated and expanded on 10/27/11.
State Sen. Mike Frerichs (D-Champaign) says he is disappointed that his bill to nullify the new group health insurance plans for state workers and retirees failed to survive a gubernatorial veto on Wednesday.
Senators failed to override the veto on a vote of 28-to-28, with Senate President John Cullerton voting Present. But Frerichs said the fight against what he sees as an inferior package of health plans isn't over yet.
"We're not done fighting, and this is a speed bump, it's not a roadblock," Frerichs said. "We still have a very good case going through the courts. And we still have time, because we extended contracts through June 30, to work on a solution in the spring session."
Frerichs was referring to the contract extensions of existing health plans --- including those from Urbana-based Health Alliance. They are meant to give time for the dispute over the health plans to play out. Frerichs' legislation would have gone further, canceling the new health plans entirely and starting the process of approving new contracts all over again --- but taking oversight of the procurement process to the Department of Healthcare and Family Services, and returning it to the Illinois Department of Central Management Services.
Frerichs also says he hasn't entirely given up on reaching a compromise with Governor Pat Quinn, despite his veto of the bill.
"The governor made fairly clear that he was opposed to this bill", says Frerichs. "But he did leave open the possibility of some sort of negotiations. So I'm going to listen to him, see if there's some sort of compromise that we can reach. If we can't though, we're prepared to go forward and try again."
Frerichs charges the Quinn administration with working to switch votes in the Senate on his bill, which passed the chamber 37 to 12 in May
The new health insurance plans announced by the Quinn administration last April drew criticism because they replaced existing health plans --- such as those from Health Alliance --- with ones not generally available in many counties or with certain physician groups --- such as Carle, which owns Health Alliance, and has an exclusive contract with them.
A company that supplies sandwiches to convenience stores, supermarkets and other outlets, is recalling two of its products, because they may be contaminated with Listeria.
St Louis-based Landshire Incorporated is recalling its Nike All-American and Nike Super Poor Boy sandwiches, after two samples from the company's plant in Caseyville tested positive for Listeria. The Illinois Department of Public Health says the sandwiches were made between Aug. 25 and Oct. 6. The Public Health Department says neither they nor Landshire have received any reports of confirmed illnesses due to the sandwiches.
Public Health officials say that Listeria symptoms vary, but can be serious and sometimes fatal in young children, pregnant women, the elderly and other with weakened immune symptoms. The symptoms can include fever, muscle aches, severe headaches and stiffness, abdominal pain and diarrhea. In pregnant women, Listeria infection can cause miscarriages or stillbirths.
If you've bought one of the sandwiches, you can return them to the place of purchase for a refund. They're identified by specific production lot codes affected by the recall range from 11 237 6 through 11 285 6. The codes can be found on the side or back of the individual packaged sandwich.
If you have questions about the sandwiches, you should contact Landshire at 314-925-4009.
The state of Indiana is trying to reinstate its controversial law banning Medicaid funds from going to Planned Parenthood of Indiana and other health agencies that provide abortions.
The state's lawyers Thursday went before a three-judge panel of the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals at the Dirksen Federal Building in Chicago. Last June, a federal judge in Indianapolis approved a preliminary injunction reinstating Medicaid funds to Planned Parenthood that had been cut off after Indiana passed its anti-abortion law. That legislation is now being mimicked by other conservative-leaning states.
"I think it's going to have some significant impact. Certainly, if our arguments don't prevail, that may put a damper on what other states want to do," said Indiana Solicitor General Thomas M. Fisher. "But if we prevail, it could have some national significance."
At issue is whether Indiana has a right to alter qualifications concerning which health care providers can or can't receive Medicaid, funding that is used to provide health care to low-income people.
In the spring, the Indiana General Assembly approved a measure to prevent Medicaid funds going to any health provider that also performs abortions. The law was drafted broadly, but is seen to be directly aimed at Planned Parenthood of Indiana.
Indiana's own Legislative Services Agency warned lawmakers that the rule change may violate federal law, a position that's also taken by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Fisher says Indiana is still in the right.
"Under the Medicaid Act, the states have the authority to set the qualifications for Medicaid providers. The argument from Planned Parenthood has been that we are not allowed to reduce patient choices," Fisher said. "We think the law is on our side that - just because one provider (Planned Parenthood) may not continue being a Medicaid provider - that itself is not a fatal reduction in patient choice. There are over 800 other providers where Planned Parenthood has clinics. That still leaves plenty of choice for patients."
Indiana Civil Liberties Union attorney Ken Falk is defending Planned Parenthood. He disagrees with the state's stance.
"This has been couched, I believe, as an abortion issue. But really it's an issue of the state asserting a right that it simply doesn't have to determine provider qualification," Falk said. "The state next year could decide what else can be made a provider qualification. The point is that the state can regulate matters which have some impact on Medicaid. This is not that type of qualification."
Judge Diane Sykes asked Falk if Planned Parenthood would be willing to separate the organization, basically dividing its health services from its abortion services, as the state of Indiana has suggested.
"It's not clear if that can occur under the current statute in Indiana," Falk said. "Freedom of choice belongs to the recipient of Medicaid."
Fisher said the whole issue is really up to Planned Parenthood.
"Planned Parenthood can make the choice itself on whether it wants to be a Medicaid provider or an abortion provider. It's not exactly the case that the statute itself commands any provider to go out of business," Fisher said. "Planned Parenthood makes that choice. The law is on our side. Reducing the range of choices by one? That doesn't mean the law is invalid."
A temporary injunction has barred Indiana from fully implementing its ban on Medicaid funds from going to Planned Parenthood.
The state faces another complication, in that it must also appear before an administrative law judge with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. That hearing will address some of the same issues taken up by the federal courts. That hearing takes place Dec. 15 in Chicago.
Health officials say roughly 1 in 25 adolescents in the United States are taking antidepressants.
A new study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is the first to offer statistics on how many kids ages 12 to 17 take antidepressants.
It's based on surveys and depression screenings of about 12,000 Americans.
The study found about 1 in 10 adults take antidepressants.
And perhaps more should - the researchers said only one third of people with depression symptoms in the study were taking medication.
The CDC report was released Wednesday. It also found that women take the drugs more than men, and whites use them more than blacks or Mexican-Americans.
Indiana officials who want to cut funding to Planned Parenthood say the organization could solve the issue by simply splitting its abortion business into a separate affiliate.
But officials in states where Planned Parenthood has done that say it isn't an answer and that the organization could quickly find itself under new pressures as social conservatives target abortion providers across the nation.
Indiana and Planned Parenthood have been locked in a legal battle since Gov. Mitch Daniels in May signed a law cutting off funding to the group.
Planned Parenthood won a temporary injunction in June allowing it to continue receiving Medicaid money. On Thursday, the case goes before the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago.
Illinois patients once again can use a public website to find out whether their doctors and chiropractors have shady histories.
The Physician Profile became available Wednesday on the website for the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation.
It allows consumers to see whether a doctor has been disciplined in Illinois or in another state. Malpractice judgments and settlements going back five years are posted.
The searchable database was taken offline last year when the Illinois Supreme Court declared a medical malpractice reform law unconstitutional.
A new law reinstated the database and gave doctors 60 days to review the information before the site went live. That review period has passed, allowing the comeback.
The website drew more than 150,000 hits weekly before it went dark in 2010.
The Illinois Health Facilities and Services Review Board has signed off on creating Illinois' largest Catholic hospital system.
At its meeting Wednesday in Bolingbrook, the state regulatory panel unanimously agreed to the merger between Mokena-based Provena Health and Chicago-based Resurrection Health Care.
The combined system would provide more than 100 sites, including Provena's two hospitals in Urbana and Danville, 28 long-term care and senior residential centers, and more than 50 clinics.
Sandra Bruce, the president and CEO of the new organization, said it is grateful for the board's unanimous approval.
"We enthusiastically now turn our full attention to creating a strong Catholic health ministry driven by Mission, and focused entirely on collaborating with our physicians, staff, and our communities to deliver patient, resident and family-centered care that is high in quality and value," Bruce said in a press release.
When the merger was announced in July, Resurrection spoksman Brian Crawford said he expected a cost savings to be incurred by closing down information systems and a corporate office for one of the hospital systems. At a state hearing in Urbana in August, there was little opposition to the move.
It's expected to be finalized Nov. 1.
The Illinois state senate's Agriculture and Conservation Committee met this week in Springfield to discuss housing and labor issues facing migrant workers.
An example brought up during the hearing was the case of the Cherry Orchard Village apartments in Champaign County. The property's managers were found guilty this year of failing to legally connect and repair the property's sewage systems, and they were ordered to vacate the apartments.
Champaign-Urbana Public Health Administrator Julie Pryde testified at the hearing. Pryde said part of the problem in cases like this stems from companies that underpay migrant workers.
"Migrant workers are coming here from other countries to make a lot of money, take it back for their families to live on. Not the case," Pryde said. "What's happening is that entire families are moving here. They're exploited the entire time they're here, and they usually don't even have enough money to make it back where they came from."
Democratic State Senator Mike Frerichs of Champaign chaired the committee hearing. Frerichs said legislation will be introduced next year to address housing problems facing migrant workers.
"You don't want to paint with a broad brush and say that everyone is responsible for this," Frerichs said. "But I think something needs to happen in order to insure that people aren't living in such filthy conditions with raw sewage and really unlivable living conditions."
Members of the Senate Agriculture Committee also heard testimony from Executive Director of the Illinois Migrant Council Eloy Salazar, Supervisory Attorney of the Illinois Migrant Legal Assistance Project Miguel Keberlein Gutierrez, Policy Analyst for the Latino Policy Forum Juliana Gonzalez-Crussi, and Policy Director for Housing Action Illinois Bob Palmer.
State Senator Shane Cultra has come up with one way to try and reign in Medicaid costs.
Legislation sponsored by the Onarga Republican would require drug testing for those on public aid. It would require an initial test when applying for Medicaid, and subsequent random tests for current recipients. Cultra says the measure serves a dual purpose in that it targets those who need help, who will cost the state more if they aren't treated.
"There's going to be a cost savings just in identifiying those that are on drugs," he said. "Usually, there are family situations there. It's better for the family, it's better for everyone involved."
Cultra says he's confident the measure will get co-sponsors, but is skeptical the measure will find its way through the legislature in the approaching fall veto session. He says Democrats haven't looked kindly on similar measures.
The Senator notes federal regulators have objected to bi-partisan Medicaid reforms that were passed in January. One of them would have required applicants to produce more than one pay stub to prove income eligibility. But Cultra says any other method that Illinois attempts is considered a 'new' and forbidden eligibility restriction.
'I don't understand why they would do that, but even if we got this passed, maybe the federal government would do the same thing, we don't know," he said. "But I think it's a start."
Cultra says reforming Medicaid and other entitlement programs has to start somewhere. He says savings from the bill could 'astronomical' if it properly identified those who get their lives turned around.
Five cats in Champaign County have been diagnosed with tularemia, also known as rabbit fever, and other names. It's a bacterial disease that can spread to humans.
Epidemiologist Avais Vaid of the Champaign-Urbana Public Health District said cats catch tularemia from ticks they encounter while hunting rabbits and other small rodents. Four of the five cats with the disease have either died or been euthanized.
A spokesperson for the Illinois Department of Public Health says cases of tularemia haven't been seen in the state in years. Vaid said he's concerned that the disease has shown up in cats in Cahampaign County, and he worries the disease may be spreading.
"Initially, the three cats were in the Savoy area, which were very close to the wildlife area over there," Vaid explained. "But then the other ones that we found, one was in Champaign and (one was) in Urbana. So that really raises the concern that it is possible that it is spreading to other parts of the county."
Cats with tularemia may develop a high fever, mouth ulcers and depression, among other symptoms. They can spread the disease to humans through bites and scratches, sneezing or saliva. Human symptoms include sudden fever, chills, heat and muscle aches and diarrhea. The disease is fatal to humans in rare cases, especially if not treated.
Vaid said the best way to protect cats from tularemia is not to let them hunt outdoors, and make sure they're protected from tick bites. He says freezing weather should curb the threat of the tick that spreads tularemia.
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