Illinois Public Media News
Members of a health care advocacy group are urging Congress to avoid touching Social Security as a bipartisan panel looks to reduce the national deficit.
Champaign County Health Care Consumers has sent a letter to Senator Dick Durbin, speculating that his 'Gang of Six' is still looking at cuts to Social Security. The group's Medicare Task Force says a myth is being spread on Capitol Hill that the program adds to the deficit. Thomas Rohrer is a member of the group's Medicare Task Force. He said he is concerned about any efforts to privatize Social Security.
"The stock market crashed a couple years ago, and people lost a lot of money," Rorher said. "And if social security people lose their benefits - where would they go? What would happen? At least the government provides a safety net."
The consumers' group also opposes any talk of raising the retirement age from 67 to 69. Rohrer said he has friends who simply can't stay in their current jobs until that age, and worries about age discrimination for anyone trying to find new work.
The Health Care Consumers' Executive Director Claudia Lenhoff criticized AARP, noting that the agency is willing to consider raising the retirement age. She said it is 'selling out its constituents' as a result.
"They talk out of both sides of their mouth, saying that they want to protect social security and that making cuts to social security benefits and raising the retirement age is a cut - is important for saving social security," Lenhoff said. "They say that everybody recognizes that social security retirement age must be raised. Really? Everybody?"
Lenhoff noted that the federal government has borrowed $2.6 trillion from the Social Security Reserve Fund.
State employees in Illinois have settled into their health insurance choices - at least for the next three months.
But a University of Illinois professor says the controversy over the state's attempt to change providers will only resurface as September 17th nears.
Law professor Richard Kaplan said the resolution that let people keep their existing Health Alliance arrangements is only a temporary fix while the courts, the Quinn administration and the state legislature play what he calls a three-level game of chess.
Kaplan said the thousands of state workers and retirees will need to pay special attention to the wrangling in Springfield before the emergency contracts expire.
"There are several parallel tracks that (Judge Brian Otwell's) opinion might get overturned, the governor might sign the two-year keep everything as it is legislation, the contracts may be completely re-negotiated," Kaplan said. "This is very unsettling because this is not some trivial fringe benefit. This is a huge part of people's compensation and it's probably one of the most intimate aspects of their employment."
Kaplan said if Governor Pat Quinn decides to veto legislation to keep the current health insurance contracts for two more years, that could set up a game of chicken where lawmakers could override the veto and nullify the new contracts.
Kaplan said many other large employers will be reconsidering their health insurance options in the months ahead in response to last year's federal health care overhaul.
In the final hours before the Monday midnight deadline to change health insurance plans, the University of Illinois says calls with questions went down considerably.
University-wide statistics provided by the Office of Human Resources on the Urbana campus show the most on-line transactions took place Thursday, when about 5,000 people opted for a change.
In contrast, the office's Katie Ross said there were 300 transactions total over the weekend. She said phone calls to her office were getting simpler Monday afternoon.
"Calls that we're seeing now are basically from employees that just want to confirm that the last change they made in the system is indeed reflected in our system," Ross said. "Our counselors are able to look up that information very quickly, and confirm that we do have the correct choice."
Ross said if a U of I employee recently indicated they want to add a dependent while enrolling, they have a few days to file the proper documentation, like a birth certificate.
Ninety day extensions of current contracts were granted last week for most providers, including Health Alliance. Health Alliance spokeswoman Jane Hayes said her office has gotten a lot of calls over the weekend and Monday expressing interest in sticking with or switching over to Health Alliance.
It is unclear what happens when the emergency health plans expire, but Hayes said she is encouraged by a Sangamon County Judge's ruling earlier this month stalling the use of self-insurance open access plans.
"Having heard him read in his order that he believes Health Alliance has a good chance of winning the merits of the case, we feel fairly confident that we will win out, and hopefully have a longer-term contract," Hayes said.
Ross said last week that about half the Urbana campus opted for a different health insurance contract. These statistics provided by her office show the number of appliants by day on a university-wide basis over the past week.
Monday 6/13 - About 1,100 transactions Tuesday 6/14 - About 800 transactions Wednesday 6/15 - About 3,000 transactions Thursday 6/16 - About 5,000 transactions Friday 6/17 - About 800 transactions Saturday & Sunday 6/18 & 6/19 - About 300 transactions total over the weekend
Planned Parenthood of Indiana says it will stop seeing Medicaid patients if a federal judge doesn't rule Monday on its attempt to block the state's new abortion funding law.
The group said it will stop seeing those patients unless they can pay or use other resources if the judge doesn't rule by the close of business Monday on its request for a preliminary injunction blocking the law.
The law signed May 10 by Gov. Mitch Daniels bars Planned Parenthood from receiving Medicaid payments for general health services such as cancer screens.
Planned Parenthood has been relying on private donations to fund care for Medicaid clients. It has previously said it would run out of donations after Monday to cover the costs of caring for existing Medicaid patients.
Small-time growers and cooks who sell food at farmers market may soon be able to expand their offerings. Advocates for locally made food and health department officials are attempting to find some middle ground.
Nearly all the food at farmers market is regulated, some more than others. Basically, if it's in a jar or prepared in any way it must be done in a certified kitchen. But making the upgrade to one of those kitchens can be costly for someone trying to sell baked goods or preserves.
A measure that passed the state legislature recently would allow people to sell certain kinds of food made in a home kitchen. They would be able to do so without making costly upgrades or receiving the stamp of approval from a health department. Dairy products prone to food borne illness wouldn't be allowed. Only baked goods, dried herbs, teas and canned preserves could be sold.
Wes King is a policy coordinator with the Illinois Stewardship Alliance. He said some health code regulations keep culinary entrepreneurs from branching out. He points to the growth in the number of farmers markets throughout the state.
"We thought that you know, creating a more risk and scale appropriate regulations that would allow some of these start up businesses to take place in their homes or farms that are already selling at the farmers market to add a little bit and diversify their product line," King said.
But health department officials were initially concerned. They wanted to make sure consumers knew the food they were buying came from a facility that hasn't been thoroughly inspected. All food made in a home kitchen will need to be labeled as such if Governor Pat Quinn signs the exemptions into law.
"Because this is an evolving industry there were some challenges on the part of the regulatory environment in terms of where can we be flexible but yet still assure a reasonable consumer protection," Peoria health administrator Greg Chance said.
Chance said he support the measure because it only allows the sale of food not usually prone to food borne illness.
More kids may be suffering from food allergies than was previously thought, according to new findings from a Chicago researcher.
Research has already shown that food allergies seem to be on the rise, and now a study of more than 40,000 children shows that one in 13 have a food allergy. That's about twice as many as some recent estimates.
Ruchi Gupta, a pediatrician with Children's Memorial Hospital and Northwestern Medicine and lead author of the study, said some 2.5 million children - including her own daughter - have severe allergies.
"If many of these children, about 40 percent, ingest food that they are allergic to, they could have a reaction that could lead to death. It could be that serious," Gupta said.
Peanut allergies were the most prevalent, followed by milk and shellfish.
Gupta also found that Asian and African-American kids were more likely to go undiagnosed than white children. The study is published in the journal, Pediatrics.
(With additional reporting from Illinois Public Radio)
The U.S. Justice Department is coming to the defense of Planned Parenthood of Indiana. The state's governor recently signed a law blocking federal money from going to the agency.
Late Thursday, the U.S. Justice Department jumped into the the ongoing legal dispute between Planned Parenthood and the State of Indiana. Planned Parenthood sued Indiana after Gov. Mitch Daniels signed a law last month blocking government funding.
The law is the first of its kind in the country and prevents federal money from going to agencies that perform abortions. That means Planned Parenthood of Indiana won't be getting $3 million.
In the Justice Department's court document, it writes that federal interests are at stake and the judge overseeing the case should block the law. An attorney for Planned Parenthood told The Associated Press that the filing caught him by surprise.
The judge has already said she plans to make her decision by July 1.
The state of Illinois has announced that the deadline to register for group health insurance has been extended to Monday.
Most state and university employees could choose to stay on with their existing health care plans for the next three months. State officials announced Thursday that all HMOs and open access plans will stay in place for 90 days, with Humana being the only holdout. That means most current employees and retirees can stay with their current provider until October, with no further paperwork.
Meanwhile, Human Resources staff at the University of Illinois say the number of calls from employees about the application process has slowed considerably since the contract extensions were announced. U of I Associate Director of Human Resources Administration, Katie Ross, says the questions now are fairly simple, usually asking for primary care physician numbers and codes for an employee's preferred health plan.
And Ross says the Benefit Choice application web site got a boost of additional memory prior to the last time employees registered for health plans.
"It then underwent more testing and we're very confident in that performance," said Ross. "But this is a very unique situation that we're in where so many hits are going to be at the very last minute. We're watching carefully, and we have extra staff assigned."
In total, she says just over half the employees on the Urbana campus opted for a different health plan in the last few weeks. She says her office processed about 3,000 transactions Wednesday.
Things are also slowing down for Human Resources staff at Illinois State University. Khris Clevenger, the Assistant Vice President for Human Resources, says the school in Normal only recently implemented a web-based application process. She says 1,000 of 3,500 employees used the site Thursday with no problems logging on.
A federal judge in Chicago said Wednesday that he will approve a legal settlement allowing thousands of developmentally disabled Illinoisans to move out of institutions, and into smaller, community-based homes.
The agreement could end end six years of legal wrangling, paving the way for some 6,000 developmentally disabled Illinoisans to move out of the larger, institutional settings. Some advocates say those homes do not provide enough independence for some residents. Under a consent decree being considered by U.S. District Judge James F. Holderman, the state of Illinois would have to help developmentally disabled people find smaller homes if they choose to leave the larger institutions.
John Grossbart, the plantinffs' head lawyer, said the consent decree that's expected to be officially approved soon is good news for people who might thrive in a less institutional environment.
"When you wanna turn on the TV and turn off the TV, you can do so," Grossbart said after court Wednesday. "When you wanna get a glass of milk and have a snack at some peculiar time of day, you can do that. Start taking stuff like that away from yourself and see how you feel."
Grossbart said the lawsuit was necessary because Illinois has been dragging its feet when it comes to helping people move into smaller, more independent homes that advocates say let the disabled to grow and ineract more often with the community. As of 2009, only 38 percent of the state's developmentally disabled lived in such homes, according to the 2011 State of the States in Developmental Disabilities, a study by the Unverisity of Colorado that was partially funded by the federal government. That's compared to 75 percent nationwide.
"I'm happy," said Stanley Ligas, 43, the lead plaintiff in the case. "I'm ready to move. Hallelujah, I made it!"
Ligas currently lives in a larger group home setting and has a part-time job, he said. But he added that he's looking forward to being able to work full-time once he moves into a smaller home.
Advocates have launched several lawsuits in recent years aimed at giving Illinois' disabled population more housing options. Last fall, a federal judge approved a similar consent decree that allows for about 4,000 mentally ill Illinoisans to move out of institutions.
In a statement a spokeswoman for the Illinois Department of Human Services said the agency is pleased with the agreement.
"[It] will open up more community-based care options for people with disabilities who choose it," spokeswoman Januari Smith said. "We want to thank everyone who came together to put the needs of people with disabilities first. The department has worked hard to reach a settlement, and will continue to work diligently with all parties involved."
The settlement stipulates that the state must now help people who want to move out of the institutions to find new homes in the smaller, community care settings. The total cost of that placement depends on how many people want to move, Smith said, adding that average cost of a community setting for a full year is about $32,000.
Health Alliance Receives 90-Day Extension
Most state and university employees could choose to stay on with their existing health care plans for the next three months.
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