Illinois Public Media News
A University of Illinois professor says it may take until November's elections to discover the real winners and losers in the US House passage of health care reform.
Institute of Government and Public Affairs Director Robert Rich says the first assumption is that President Obama is a winner for pushing through legislation that many didn't expect to pass. But Rich says he fully expects Republicans to campaign on the repeal of the legislation until the fall. He points to the fact that no Republicans voted for it in House, and Rich says he fully expects the same result in Senate when votes are taken on the final measure. "I think what that is... and Senator (John) McCain already said that the Democrats will pay a price for this... and I don't take that as him being necessarily correct," says Rich. "What I take that to be is the gauntlet has been let down, and to say that we're now on March 22nd, elections coming up this this fall, and this is going to be a major issue in the campaign."
Rich says children are immediate winners of the measure, since they can't be denied insurance for pre-existing conditions. He also says small businesses should benefit since they can form alliances to negotiate better insurance rates. The Executive Director of the Illinois-based Campaign for Better Health Care, Jim Duffet, says the first sign of the measure's passage is that people won't be turned down by their insurance company for having an illness. Duffett also credits lawmakers for including language that encourages entrepreneurism.
"There's so many people that would love to start a new business,' says Duffett. "So many people that would love to use their creativity and their minds to be able to create different jobs, take this idea and run with it. So many people have not been able to do that because they're fearful they cannot get health insurance for themselves or their family because they have a pre-existing condition. So that is going to be off people's backs." Duffet also commends the bill's authors for letting young people stay on their parents' insurance longer, until the age of 26.
Rich says everyone should keep in mind that what he considers the heart of the legislation, coverage of the uninsured, doesn't go into effect until 2014. Rich says that presents opportunities for a repeal both this year and in 2012. But Rich says that's unlikely... with a two-thirds vote required and President Obama still in office.
The Illinois Supreme Court has ruled that Urbana's Provena Covenant Medical Center will have to pay property taxes to Champaign County dating back to 2002.
Justices determined Thursday that the hospital did not provide enough charity care to qualify for its tax exemption, upholding an appellate court ruling. That amount in taxes is expected to be around $8 million.
The Champaign County Board of Review initially recommended to the Illinois Department of Revenue that the hospital be denied the exemption. Chair Laura Standefur says after reviewing financial statements that her board found a few reasons for turning the hospital down, but it started with the amount of charity care. Sandefur says it's hard to define, but the board knows when it's not at the appropriate level.
"Charity, I think, is kind of that same way," Sandefur said. "Less than one percent, is that exclusive use? What defines exclusive or even majority use? None of us on the board could really look at those numbers and think that that was used exclusively for charitable purposes."
Champaign County treasurer Dan Welch says it's still not clear how the roughly $8 million in property taxes should be collected. He says the majority of the funds would be earmarked for Urbana's Tax Increment Financing, or TIF, district. But he says Urbana city leaders may be able to change how those funds are divided. Mayor Laurel Prussing has already suggested breaking down those funds among taxing bodies, including more than $4 million for schools, $1.2 million for the city, and $720,000 for Champaign County.
Provena officials released a written statement on the Supreme Court decision. Local Hospital Board Chairman Cody Sokolski says he's deeply disappointed in the ruling, noting that the hospital provided more than $38 million in free care and other community benefits in 2008. Provena Covenant CEO David Bertauski says he hopes the ruling prompts a dialogue among elected officials and hospitals over how charity care should be defined.
Six years ago Provena's tax exempt status for 2002 was revoked after the state department of revenue sided with Champaign County officials. A circuit court judge overturned the ruling, but an appeals court later reversed it again in the state and county's favor. In the meantime, Provena has been putting contested tax money - more than a million dollars a year -- into a fund that remained tied up pending the Supreme Court ruling.
The Illinois Supreme Court is expected to issue its ruling Thursday in a taxation case that could affect dozens of not-for-profit hospitals in Illinois.
The case involves Provena Covenant Medical Center in Urbana. In 2004 it lost its property tax exempt status because county officials determined the hospital did not provide enough charitable care. State revenue officials agreed, but an appeals court reversed the lower court's decision against Provena. At issue is whether Provena still owes local governments more than a million dollars in property taxes a year since the initial decision. The case is on the high court's list of decisions to be released Thursday - both sides argued before the justices last September.
A lawsuit that complained that thousands of mentally Ill people in Illinois are being treated unfairly is about to be settled.
The settlement orders the state to transfer 256 people from larger institutions to smaller homes or apartments over the next year, with nearly 400 more transferred next year. Over the next five years the agreement between the state and the American Civil Liberties Union would affect about 4500 mentally ill Illinoisans.
Diane Zell heads the Champaign chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness. She says too many people left institutions only to be warehoused in nursing homes not designed to care for them. She fears that the state's economic situation may not mean a smooth transition for many of those people.
"Most poeple who have serious mental illness have not completed their education, and they may not be employed, at least not employed to the extent where they have health insurance," said Zell. "So this is a problem that won't go away."
Nevertheless, advocates of the mentally ill are hailing the agreement as a landmark. The settlement needs a judge's approval and both sides have requested a hearing to consider the specifics of the plan.
The Champaign County Board of Health is waiting for a consultant's report before it tries to resolve a dispute with its services provider.
The C-U Public Health District provides core services for the county through a contract. The county tried to renegotiate that contract early, in order to force re-negotiations of its terms. But the Champaign County Board refused to approve a one-year termination notice.
Stan James is the County Board's Liaison to the Board of Health. He said the consultant was charged with determining exactly what public health services the county is mandated to provide and to describe what options the Board of Health would have if they ended their service contract with the Public Health District.
Not all Board of Health members appear to agree on the value for money of the CU-PHD's services to the county. James indicated his first choice would be to continue working with the Public Health District.
Meanwhile, James wants more information before moving forward: "Moving forward right now we're paying the bills, we're gonna wait for this consultant's report and then find out for sure what's mandated by the state... Hopefully (we'll) sit down with public health and keep working at this. Right now, I think they're doing, in my mind, a great job. "
The consultant's final report is expected in April. The Board of Health is scheduled to meet March 30th.
The University of Illinois says a junior there has won a $30,000 prize for developing an affordable prosthetic arm for people in developing countries.
The winner of the Lemelson-MIT Illinois Student Prize for innovation is Jonathan Naber, a major in materials science and engineering.
Naber has been working with the Illini Prosthetics Team to create an arm that is functional, durable and easily made. He plans to travel to Guatemala this summer to field-test the prototype at a prosthetics clinic in the Central American nation.
The prize is funded through a partnership with the Lemelson-MIT Program and is administered by the UI's Technology Entrepreneur Center.
The head of a local agency overseeing a federally funded project to curb underage drinking among Champaign-Urbana college students is asking the Champaign City Council to reconsider its decision to refuse its share of the funding.
The City Council rejected the money on a five to four vote two weeks ago. CEO Sheila Ferguson of the Mental Health Center of Champaign County wasn't at that meeting. And on Tuesday night, she apologized to council members for not doing the best job of explaining the program, which also involves U of I, Urbana and Illinois state police forces, along with Parkland College.
The program would have given Champaign Police about $11,000 a year for three years to enforce underage drinking laws. In voting "no" two weeks ago, council members said they would be conducting those enforcement measures anyway. And Councilman Tom Bruno criticized the program for not including education along with enforcement efforts. But Ferguson says education is indeed included, in programs run by the Mental Health Center.
"There's things like advertising, pamphlets, brochures, opportunities for public speaking at fraternities, on campus, during Quad Day, things like that, where we'd be focusing on providing education and advocacy efforts tot those groups specifically", says Ferguson.
Ferguson says Champaign Mayor Jerry Schweighart wrote a letter of support for the program in 2008. But in voting to reject the funding two weeks ago, he expressed concerns about federal money being spent at a time of high deficits. The total size of the multi-agency grant is around $120,000 a year for three years. At Tuesday night's council meeting, Schweighart told Ferguson to call his office to discuss ways to bring the grant money back before the Champaign City Council for discussion.
The Illinois Department of Insurance is the only agency that stands in front of the merger of Carle Foundation Hospital and Cale Clinic Association.
The deal would have the not-for-profit Carle Foundation purchase the for-profit clinic for $250 million. The clinic's Health Alliance Medical Plans would be the only business to remain for-profit.
Yesterday without opposition, the state Health Facilities and Services Review Board approved a certificate of need clearing the way for the purchase. Carle says the merger will make the organization a stronger health care provider and give the clinic's doctors a stable place of employment. Federal regulators have not raised any questions about the deal - if the state insurance department approves, Carle says the merger could be completed in April.
After mold and ventilation problems delayed the completion of the new Champaign County nursing home, the county board went after the nursing home's builders to collect damages. Now the last of those efforts is completed.
Arbitrators have ruled that Otto Baum Company, one of the prime contractors on the project, must pay Champaign County $405,000 for problems caused by mold found on wood during nursing home construction. After outstanding bills owed to Otto Baum are paid, the county will be ahead by nearly $150,000. Rantoul Township Republican Stan James serves on the county board's facilities committee. He says the settlement of the mold issue frees the county board up to focus on other concerns.
"That's one less thing on our plate, and now we can move on. We've got bigger budget issues to tackle and a host of issues due the economy that we need to be focusing on," James said.
While Champaign County is receiving some money in the binding decision, the arbitrators say the county also shares in the responsibility. The arbitrators' report say that the county, Otto Baum Company and construction manager PKD all should have known that unvented heaters were not adequate to keep mold away from wood used in nursing home construction.
Damages from Otto Baum, plus previous awards from other firms involved in nursing home construction are providing Champaign County with about $1.3 million in payments to help make up for extra costs and delays in nursing home construction. Facilities Committee Chairman Steve Beckett estimates that the payments fall $300,000 to $500,000 short of the county's expenses.
While one area county has gotten out of nursing home operations, the Champaign County Nursing Home appears to have turned a corner after a number of financial problems.
A week from today, Livingston Manor in Pontiac will have a new operator. Livingston County Board Chairman Bill Fairfield says while the level of care there is good, he says the facilities are nearly 50 years old, with one bathroom per wing. As a result, Fairfield says it's hard to find new patients. Livingston Manor has about 35 residents now, with 122 beds.
County officials have spent the last couple of years working with the non-profit Good Samaritan Home of Flanagan to assume operations at the Pontiac home. And by September 2011, Fairfield says Good Samaritan will have a new facility built, with the help of an economic development grant from the county.
"They have a couple of ideas on property, which would be somewhere in the vicinity of St. James Hospital in Pontiac, to build a new facility," said Fairfield. "And I believe that once they have a facility that is modern, with a private bath and all, that you will see the census rise."
Census has not been a problem of late at Champaign County's nursing home. Mike Scavatto is president of Management Performance Associates, the St. Louis based group that's helping with management of home. He's aiming for an average census of about 195 patients, and they're close to it now. But there's also been an increase in private pay residents, a lower percentage of them on Medicaid, and less contract nursing. But Scavatto says there are other goals in mind.
"We're very interested in expanding our services in dementia and doing more with rehabilitation. And I think those are the two key services that will help us out," said Scavotto.
The Champaign County Nursing Home closed out 2008 with a one-point-8 million dollar loss. Scavatto expects losses from 2009 to show a figure closer to 150-thousand dollars.
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