Illinois Public Media News
Opponents of the changes to Medicare proposed in the budget plan passed by the US House are gearing up their campaigns. The union-affiliated Alliance for Retired Americans made its case to a luncheon for retirees of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees in Urbana Wednesday.
The budget plan was proposed by Wisconsin Republican Paul Ryan and passed by the House last month. It calls for switching the Medicare system over to vouchers used to help pay a choice of competing private health plans.
But the Alliance for Retired Americans argues the change will result in sharply higher out-of-pocket payments. Beatrice Stratton is the vice-president of the AFSCME retirees group that saw the Alliance's presentation. She says the increase would be too high for seniors like herself who are on limited incomes. "Those people, from what I understand, are going to end up paying anywhere from $5,000-6,000 a year for their healthcare," said Stratton. "I mean, they're only going to give them a voucher for so much money. And you know that older people are going to spend more money at the doctor's."
The Alliance for Retired Americans called on people at the AFSCME retirees' luncheon to contact Congressman Tim Johnson, who voted for the budget plan that includes the Medicare changes. A spokesman for Johnson's office could not be reached for comment on Wednesday. A website promoting Congressman Ryan's budget ideas says the Medicare payments under the new plan would be pegged to inflation and give higher payments to those facing greater medical risks.
A group representing nursing homes in Illinois says the governor's proposed budget cuts would leave many of them struggling to provide adequate care, or even to survive.
The Health Care Council of Illinois' membership is mainly privately-run nursing homes, but they accept many patients relying on Medicaid. For one home in Champaign where patients and staff rallied this morning, that amounts to 70 patients out of 118 paying for their care through Medicaid.
Governor Pat Quinn's plan to ease the state's budget deficit includes a 6% cut in Medicaid funding. Health Care Council director Pat Comstock said such a cut would further hurt a system that already provides the least nursing home assistance of any state in the nation.
"Every facility will be impacted differently, but facilities may more and more make a decision not to take Medicaid residents, and then the poorest of the poor and the frailest of the frail won't have anywhere to get services," Comstock said. "Some facilities are undoubtedly going to close."
Comstock acknowledges that state senators are considering less drastic cuts - 3-percent instead of 6-percent. But she says for each dollar nursing homes lose from the state for Medicaid patients, they lose another dollar in federal matching funds -- a total of $140 million less in reimbursements if the state follows through with its $70 million proposed reduction.
A measure in the Illinois General Assembly could loosen local health department regulations that prevent people who want to make their own food and sell it at farmers markets.
The legislation, which passed the state Senate, would allow people to sell home-baked "non potentially hazardous food," like cookies, breads, and cakes. These are goods with a lower risk and track record of a foodborne illness.
The measure also includes selling certain types of jam, jelly and fruit butter.
In Illinois, baked goods sold as part of a business have to be prepared in a kitchen that passes a state health inspection. However, there are exceptions when home-prepared goods are sold at a yard sale or during a fundraiser.
In most cases, people who want to sell their own homemade baked goods have to rent or purchase a commercially certified kitchen. Wes King, the policy coordinator with the Illinois Stewardship Alliance, said buying a kitchen that is up to code can cost thousands of dolars, an expense he said many people cannot manage. King said the legislation would provide a stepping-stone for small businesses to startup.
"Instead of having to invest all that money in a commercial kitchen, you can do it out of your home kitchen and sell it at farmers markets," King explained. "Ideally, if you have a really successful product, you'll then move into the level of maybe using a shared kitchen or purchasing your own commercial kitchen."
The measure could have a big impact in Urbana. Back in 2009, the Champaign Urbana Public Health District began enforcing the state's ban on homemade goods at farmers markets, like Urbana's Market at the Square. Lisa Bralts-Kelly, the director of Market at the Square, said the legislation could change that policy.
"Overall, I think it'll be a great thing for farmers markets," Bralts-Kelly said. "It'll bring us back to people being able to find special things that they can't find anywhere else. Also in an economy like this, it kind of boosts entrepreneurialism and gives people a chance to earn some additional money."
State Senator Shane Cultra (R-Onarga), a co-sponsor of the legislation, said he hopes the bill changes the way local health departments in the state regulate food sales.
"There's too heavy a hand of local health departments," Cultra said. "This law does a good job of dividing food products into ones that have potential to be hazardous and ones that aren't."
The legislation requires people to have a food sanitation license, and it states that they must clearly label goods that are prepared in a home.
At least 17 other states have similar policies in place, according to the Illinois Stewardship Alliance.
The measure now heads to the Illinois House of Representatives.
Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels announced Friday he intends to sign a bill that will cut $3 million in state funding to Planned Parenthood of Indiana, saying both he-and most Hoosiers-oppose abortion.
"I will sign HEA 1210 when it reaches my desk a week or so from now. I supported this bill from the outset, and the recent addition of language guarding against the spending of tax dollars to support abortions creates no reason to alter my position," Daniels said in a written statement. "Any organization affected by this provision can resume receiving taxpayer dollars immediately by ceasing or separating its operations that perform abortions."
Betty Cockrum, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Indiana, said the lost funds will affect everything from providing healthcare services to just keeping the doors open in some areas of the state, including three offices in Northwest Indiana.
Cockrum says about a $1 million goes directly to provide services to low-income Hoosiers.
"It's pap tests, it's breast exams, birth control. It's STD (sexual transmitted disease) testing and treatment," Cockrum said. "This is just an alarming direction for public health policy in the state of Indiana."
Cockrum said the state could also cut off funding for emergency abortions in cases of rape or incest, as well as when giving birth endangers a mother's life. She noted that if these emergency services funding are cut off, her not-for-profit organization will head to court.
"We will immediately file for judicial review and seek an injunction," Cockrum said. "We do not intend to let our patients down."
In addition to funding cuts, HEA 1210 bans abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy.
Daniels said non-abortion healthcare needs of women in the state will not be affected.
"I commissioned a careful review of access to services across the state and can confirm that all non-abortion services, whether family planning or basic women's health, will remain readily available in every one of our 92 counties," Daniels stated. "In addition, I have ordered the Family and Social Services Administration to see that Medicaid recipients receive prompt notice of nearby care options. We will take any actions necessary to ensure that vital medical care is, if anything, more widely available than before."
Daniels' decision does come with political overtones. He did not openly campaign for the bill's passage through the Indiana General Assembly, and once called for a "truce" on social issues. At the time, he said lawmakers should concentrate on budget issues.
By signing the bill, he's likely to secure additional support from conservatives who oppose abortion. Daniels is mulling a run for the Republican nomination for president.
Indiana's governor has a tough choice to make soon. And it's not about whether he'll run for president.
This issue is much closer to home.
This week, the Republican-led Indiana House voted to approve a bill that would cut all funding to Planned Parenthood. The Indiana Senate approved the measure earlier this month. In all, the pregnancy planning agency would lose $3 million and could force the closure of several offices statewide.
Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels, a Republican, has said he doesn't want state or federal lawmakers to worry about social issues right now.
He wants them to concentrate on all things dealing with the budget, which he says threatens America's future.
"I haven't gotten involved in those things (social issues). I have said that I think they ought to concentrate on the debt problem," Daniels said. "So, these other things aren't unimportant but I just don't think anything should get in the way of making a very bold move before our whole American dream comes crashing down."
If Daniels signs the bill, state would also lose $4 million in federal family planning grants.
But signing the bill would likely give Daniels more support with conservatives who oppose abortion if he decides to seek GOP nomination for president.
The Carle Foundation is selling its pharmacy division to Walgreens.
The drug store's purchase of Carle RxExpress will mean four of its pharmacy locations will close in the next two months. By May 31st, Carle pharmacies on Urbana's Cunningham Avenue and Windsor Road will close, along with the location in Danville. In June, Carle's South Clinic location will consolidate with main lobby pharmacy at Carle Hospital. The remaining six will stay open under the Walgreens banner, and Carle's remaining inventory will transfer to nearby Walgreens locations.
Carle Foundation Executive Vice President John Snyder said the retail pharmacy industry has become more competitive, with new consolidations. He said Walgreens can offer discounts on generics and 90-day prescriptions that Carle can't sustain. But Snyder said consumers using Carle pharmacy locations won't see a change in service.
"They have quite a bit of experience in taking over hospital pharmacies, as well as medical office building pharmacies," he said. "They don't run them like typical Walgreens stores. They do recognize there's a difference. Their plan is to run them basically as they're run now with the same hours, and hopefully the same staff."
Snyder says Walgreens has committed to hiring about 80-percent of Carle's 76 pharmacy workers, and will interview all who apply. He said other employees with the necessary skills will be offered the chance to transfer to other jobs at Carle, while remaining workers will receive a severance package. But Walgreens spokeswoman Tiffany Washington said there wasn't a specific figure, only saying that a 'large majority' or Carle RxExpress employees would still have positions at the pharmacies.
Financial terms of the sale weren't disclosed. Proceeds from the sale will go towards the purchase of new hospital facilities and equipment.
Indiana is poised to become the first state to cut all government funding for Planned Parenthood.
The move would be a significant victory for anti-abortion activists but could pose a political predicament for Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels as he considers running for president.
The Indiana House voted 66-32 Wednesday to cut off the $3 million in federal money the state distributes to the organization for family planning and health programs. The Senate approved the measure earlier this month.
Indiana risks losing $4 million in federal family planning grants if Daniels signs the bill.
A veto could antagonize ardent conservatives wary of Daniels' calls for a truce on "social issues" to focus on the economy. But signing the bill also could provide the political cover he needs from critical social conservatives.
Almost half of African-American mothers in Illinois never breastfeed their newborns, according to a report by state and university researchers and a nonprofit group called HealthConnect One.
Among new black mothers in 2008, about 45 percent did not start breastfeeding their infants, according to the report, "Illinois Breastfeeding Blueprint: A Plan for Change." That figure compares to 21 percent for whites, 14 percent for Latinas and three percent for Asian-Americans.
The report also shows income disparities. The rate of low-income white mothers in the state who never started breastfeeding babies born in 2008 was 36 percent.
"Hospitals should be doing more to encourage breastfeeding," said University of Illinois at Chicago epidemiologist Deborah Rosenberg, who analyzed data for the report.
Looking at all new Illinois mothers, the report says the number who did start breastfeeding was almost 78 percent by 2008 - up about eight percent from 2000. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has set a national goal of almost 82 percent by 2020.
Starting breastfeeding does not mean keeping at it. Twelve weeks after giving birth, just 47 percent of Illinois mothers were breastfeeding, according to the report. Of those, almost half were not breastfeeding exclusively.
"Many women go back to work then," Rosenberg said. "It means that employers need to be supportive of breastfeeding."
Rosenberg said resources for lactation consultants and peer counselors are also falling short.
HealthConnect One, based in Chicago, published the report Monday in collaboration with the Illinois Department of Human Services and the University of Illinois at Chicago's School of Public Health.
Next month the group and its partners plan to begin formulating a five-year action plan for hospitals, government agencies, employers, insurers and community groups.
Federal health officials say breastfeeding helps babies avoid obesity, infections and chronic diseases. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends exclusive breastfeeding for six months.
The Champaign County nursing home will begin repaying a $330,000 loan that it received from the county a few years ago.
The County Board unanimously approved a plan Thursday night requiring the nursing home to make monthly payments of $1,000 a month into its general revenue fund. County Board member Jan Anderson sits on the nursing home board, and she said the repayment plan may seem like a modest amount. But she said "it shows good faith in wanting to repay" the loan given the nursing home's current financial state.
Champaign County Board Member Alan Nudo is also part of the county's nursing home board. He said since the loan was given out, the nursing home has made a profit and seen an uptick in occupancy.
"The likelihood of us going back to the county for another loan is slight at this time, but you can't predict the future," Nudo said.
Nudo said the nursing home will start repaying the loan by the beginning of May or June.
In about a year, the Champaign County Board will review the repayment plan to determine if the $1,000 a month rate should be increased. But nursing home administrator Andrew Buffenbarger said he is not sure when the center will be in a position to pay a higher monthly fee.
"We'll just continue to evaluate it as time goes on," Buffenbarger said. "It's one of those things that we would like to get retired just as soon as possible, but naturally have to consider the needs of the home."
Buffenbarger said the nursing home is also paying off a $4 million construction loan.
The Illinois High School Association board revised a policy this week regarding high school athletes who sustain head injuries during a game.
IHSA executive Kurt Gibson said students in Illinois have traditionally not been required to seek medical care the day after a head injury. He said according to the new policy, athletes must get care in the days after an incident happens, and they can only take part in a game if given clearance to do so by a licensed health care provider.
"We know so much more about concussions now than we did even a decade ago," Gibson said. "We realize and can see the need to have clear return to play policies in place in order to protect the safety of student athletes."
The policy change follows months of reports about long-term injuries sustained by athletes. The Center for Injury Research and Policy reports that about 20 percent of injuries during high school athletic competitions last year were diagnosed as concussions.
Scott Hamilton, the athletic director at Unity High School in Tolono, said he hopes the guidelines bring to the light the seriousness of sports-related injuries.
"There are so many different degrees of a kid getting hit or a kid falling or a kid bumping his head or two kids running into each other," Tolono said. "I think the important thing that's happening with all this is just awareness.
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