Illinois Public Media News

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - June 15, 2011

LIFE ON ROUTE 150: Food Insecurity Grows in East Central Illinois

(With additional reporting by Pam Dempsey/CU-CitizenAccess)

The term "food desert' has gained traction in recent years as a name for areas with a shortage of full-service food stores. But it's not clear how big a role they play in the lives of people who struggle to get the food they need. As part of the series "Life on Route 150," Illinois Public Media's Jim Meadows visited the Piatt County town of Mansfield. The people there have enough to eat, but they have to travel to get it.

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Categories: Business, Health

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - June 15, 2011

U of I Employees Question Health Care Contracts as Deadline Approaches

Prior to Tuesday's vote by the the Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability, University of Illinois employees were asking a number of questions with the Friday open enrollment deadline quickly approaching.

As things stand now, state workers and retirees still have until Friday to choose a health insurance plan. At one of the last outreach sessions on the Urbana campus, employees were being advised to choose the one they want, although they could still be defaulted into the Quality Care Health Plan option at the deadline.

One employee, Becky Heller, said her biggest concern is being allowed to change her mind if a better choice becomes available.

"They're not letting us know whether that's a guarantee or not," Heller said. "They're saying they think that they'll open enrollment again, and they think that they'll let us switch if things change, but they're not guaranteeing that. So we very well may be stuck with whatever we choose for an entire year."

Heller said she may have to consider an HMO plan in a nearby county and find a new doctor, but would still be paying lower premiums than what is in the Quality Care plan.

Employee Kathryn Smith said her concern is the state's backlog of bills, and the time it takes hospitals to be reimbursed.

"I don't know if any business in this country today that has its doors open if it's creditors don't pay them within a year," Smith said. "I'm a little concerned that our hospitals aren't going to survive this if we are left on this Quality Care Health Plan."

Brenda Butts is assistant director of University Payroll and Benefits at the U of I's Urbana campus. She said even if an employee chooses an option they ultimately cannot enroll in, Butts said she believes the state will benefit by simply seeing how many have opted for a particular plan, or 'voted' for it.

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - June 15, 2011

Champaign Council Rejects Liquor Tax Plan

The Champaign City Council has reversed course on plans for a four-percent tax on package liquor.

The plan to raise revenue was unanimously rejected after hearing from a number of business owners.

A few weeks after approving it in a six-to-three vote, the city council shot down the plan during Tuesday night's study session nine-to-nothing. The proposal was seen as a way to restore funding for three positions at the police department, and overnight hours at the front desk.

But liquor store owners say it is unfair to single out one industry to save those jobs. Sun Singer Wines owner Mark Yarbrough said it is not a question of whether he would lose business to neighboring Savoy, but how much of it. He said the tax would take a lot of work to implement.

"There's a lot of unseen and mitigating circumstances that say this is a hasty rush to judgment to pass this tax without thoroughly studying it," Yarbrough said. "And I believe it would take many study sessions in order for you to have a comprehensive understanding what is actually going on here."

Council member Karen Foster suggested the tax last month, but she said she did not anticipate the opposition. Mayor Don Gerard said he was simply looking for something to fulfill a campaign pledge to fund the police jobs, but the vote Tuesday was simply about the tax.

"As I've said all along, I don't like taxes. I don't want to do a tax. My point is retaining the services to the public," Gerard said. "And I was very heartened with the fact that most of the responses agreed and concurred that they, too would like to see the police station overnight. They just don't want to be taxed on their liquor."

Gerard said city may have to transfer existing funds, but will continue to look at new revenue sources. Council members expect to discuss those revenue sources by next month, after voting on a budget plan next Tuesday.

Categories: Economics, Government, Politics

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - June 14, 2011

State Sen. Frerichs to Run for Re-Election

State Senator Mike Frerichs (D- Champaign) says he has decided against a run for the re-drawn 13th Congressional District against incumbent Congressman Tim Johnson (R-Urbana).

Frerichs said it would interfere too much on time with his young daughter. But he does say his party has a good chance of picking up the Congressional seat, where Johnson has been lumped into a largely unfamiliar territory near St. Louis.

"I think the 13th Congressional District is largely unrepresented by an incumbent," Frerichs said. "I think it will be a good year for Democrats to run. In my meetings with folks in Washington, DC, I think they could answer all my questions except how one can serve as a good congressman and spend enough time with their family."

Frerichs said he is proud of reforms made to areas like education and worker's compensation, but he said many challenges await him, such as current changes to group health insurance for state workers.

His current 52nd Senate District did not change much in the redistricting map approved by Governor Pat Quinn, but Frerichs said it should be less confusing to constituents now that it covers nearly all of Champaign.

Meanwhile, the first Republican candidate has announced a run for Frerichs' seat.

Political Activist John Bambenek said a lot of incumbent state lawmakers are not leading with courage on issues like the budget and worker's compensation. Bambenek added that he is worried about their impact on future generations.

"And this issue is what major businesses like Caterpillar, Boeing, and manufacturing and industrial industries say is the biggest issue for them of the business climate in Illinois that needs (to be) addressed," Bambenek explained. "This is the biggest thing driving businesses out of the state."

Bambanek says he's spoken with two other possible Republican candidates for the office: Al Reynolds, who lost to Frerichs last year, and Champaign County Board member Al Nudo. "They have to make their decision about whether they're moving forward," said Bambanek. "They have their stories to tell, I think mine is more compelling."

He said this time around, any successful candidate will have to spend about $1.5 million in order to compete, but believes the resources will be available. Bambenek unsuccessfully ran for the Champaign Unit 4 School Board in 2007.

Categories: Biography, Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - June 14, 2011

Ill. Legislative Commission Approves Emergency Health Contracts

(With additional reporting from Illinois Public Media)

A Sangamon County judge's ruling last week threw health insurance enrollment for state and university employees and retirees into chaos, but people concerned about their health care options may see some reprieve.

A bipartisan legislative panel on Tuesday authorized the use of 90-day emergency health plans, which could include current insurers. That means those with Health Alliance, Humana and various Open Access Plans should be able to remain with those providers temporarily.

Still undecided, however, is which health care providers will be available for that period. That decision is up to Healthcare and Family Services Director Julie Hamos. She said all current providers will be welcome to the negotiations, which she said will start immediately and be finalized before Friday's open enrollment deadline.

That is the deadline for individuals to pick new medical insurance coverage. Janice Bonneville is in charge state employees' medical benefits. She said given the time crunch, she needs to be able to tell workers what to do.

"If we can make some additional adjustments and send information out to members through the group insurance representatives, through our website, through their unions to tell them that additional options are available we will do that," Bonneville said. "But right now the glass is half empty. I'm trying to get it half full."

It is unclear what happens when the three-month emergency health plans expire. They could be extended while the courts work through the issue, but there is no guarantee. Officials are considering an additional benefit enrollment period later this fall.

State Senator Mike Frerichs (D-Champaign) sits on the Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability, which gave the green light for the 90-day contracts. Frerichs said the vote is a good solution for now, but he said he would like to see Governor Pat Quinn sign legislation that he sponsored to continue existing coverage for the next couple of years.

"I think this is a good short-term solution to a problem that was kind of created by the courts," Frerichs said. "Going forward, I'd like to see my bill signed, but I think it's been made fairly clear that the governor does not intend to sign that."

Frerichs urges state employees who are concerned about their health insurance to pick a plan by Friday, but to wait first to find out which providers will be available.

Health Alliance released a statement Tuesday, saying it will be an option for state employees as early as Wednesday:

"However, as of this writing, CMS has not agreed to any extension of the Benefit Choice Period. Therefore, if you want to stay with Health Alliance but you made another selection, you will have to act quickly. As soon as Health Alliance is available as an option, you'll have to make a switch back to Health Alliance. And that switch will have to be made before the June 17 deadline."

To get updated information about benefit choice options leading up to Friday's open enrollment deadline, visit

Categories: Government, Health, Politics

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - June 13, 2011

State Rep. Chad Hays Running for Re-Election

State Representative Chad Hays is running for re-election in the 104th House District.

The Catlin Republican made the announcement Monday morning during a stop at the Champaign County Farm Bureau. He said he will continue pushing for improved funding for the state's colleges and universities, and more incentives to keep businesses in Illinois

"We're a little bit outnumbered north of I-80, and those that we send to Springfield have to have a passion and a conviction for standing up for east central Illinois," Hays told a crowd. "I believe I have that passion and conviction."

Hays was elected to the Illinois House last year, replacing long-time Republican state legislator, Bill Black, who retired after nearly 25 years in office.

Hays previously served as vice-president of development for Provena United Samaritans Medical Center, and two terms as mayor of Catlin in the 1990s.

New lines for legislative districts show the 104th district now includes Savoy, southwest Champaign County, and Vermilion County. No other candidates have jumped into that race.

(Photo by Sean Powers/WILL)

Categories: Biography, Government, Politics

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - June 13, 2011

Unit 4 Brings on Interim Superintendent

The Champaign Unit 4 School District has named a new superintendent to replace Arthur Culver, who leaves his post at the end of month.

Bob Malito will serve on an interim basis while a national search takes place for a permanent replacement.

"We spent a great deal of time deliberating on the selection of an interim superintendent," Champaign School Board vice-president Stig Lanneskog said. "There were several excellent options, but we believe that Dr. Malito is a very talented leader who best matches the District's needs at this time."

Malito has 20 years of experience working as the superintendent at different school districts, including 11 years at McLean County Unit District No. 5, three years at Township High School 211 in Palentine, and most recently, six years at the Parkway School District in Chesterfield, Missouri.

Malito said he is ready to get to work in Champaign.

"The district has done quite well, and the board is just dedicated to see that we can raise to the next level academically for our students," he said. "We're going to be high-speed rail going through Champaign get the job done for our students."

Malito's new job is effective July 1, but because he is coming to Champaign on an interim basis, state law indicates he can only work for a hundred working days. Lanesskog said it may take up to a year to hire someone full-time, which means another interim superintendent could be named.

"We're going to do our best to use those hundred days for as long as possible, as strategically as possible for the good of the district, and then at that point certainly we need to have a superintendent named until we have a superintendent full-time," he said.

There will be a series of public forums in the coming months to gather community input about the search for a permanent superintendent. More information about that process can be found at

(Photo courtesy of the Parkway School District)

Categories: Education
Tags: education

AP - Illinois Public Media News - June 13, 2011

WWII B-17 Makes Emergency Landing Outside Chicago

A World War II bomber made what appeared to be an emergency landing in a cornfield Monday and all seven people on board escaped before it was consumed by fire, according to the Federal Aviation Administration.

"The plane departed the airport, noted an emergency and the pilot made what appears to be an emergency landing, after which the plane was consumed by fire," FAA spokeswoman Elizabeth Isham Cory said in an email. None of the passengers were injured.

The accident happened right after the plane took off from the Aurora Municipal Airport and the plane landed in an Oswego cornfield outside Chicago, Cory said. The National Transportation Safety Board is now investigating the incident.

Jim Barry, who lives in a nearby subdivision, told the Chicago Tribune he heard a low-flying plane and looked to see it. The engine on the bomber's left wing was on fire, he said.

"Not a lot of flames, just more smoke than flames," Barry said.

The pilot reported a fire shortly after taking off, Sugar Grove Fire Chief Marty Kunkle said.

"He attempted to make a return to the airport, but couldn't make it so he put it down in a corn field," Kunkel told the Chicago Sun-Times.

Firefighters from Oswego, Sugar Grove and Plainfield responded to the scene. Fire officials said they were having difficulty getting to the aircraft because of wet fields.

The B-17 Flying Fortress was made in 1944. Authorities say it is registered to the Liberty Foundation in Miami.

An email to the Liberty Foundation from The Associated Press seeking confirmation wasn't immediately returned.

(AP Photo/Bob Mudra via the Daily Herald)

Categories: History, Transportation

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - June 13, 2011

Ill. Legislative Commission Considers Emergency Health Contracts

A state legislative commission could vote Tuesday afternoon on a proposal to allow emergency contracts to be drawn up to provide short-term health care plans for state employees.

The Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability will meet in Chicago, and the short-term contracts are on the agenda. The measure would authorize the use of 90-day health plan contracts based on current programs that expire June 30th.

A Sangamon County judge's order on Friday, June 10, put a stay on two open access plans on the menu of new health insurance plans for state workers. The state Department of Healthcare and Family Services is appealing the stay, which continues while a judge considers lawsuits filed by Health Alliance and Humana.

Without the Open Access Plans plans --- or any emergency replacements --- state workers will have to choose between the state's more expensive Quality Care health plan, and two HMO plans that serve just 38 counties: Boone, Christian, Cook, DeKalb, DuPage, Fulton, Kane, Kankakee, Kendall, Lake, Logan, Macoupin, Madison, Marshall, McHenry, Menard, Monroe, Morgan, Ogle, Peoria, Randolph, Saint Clair, Sangamon, Tazewell, Will, Winnebago and Woodford.

Spokesperson Alka Nayyar of the state Department of Central Management Services said state workers have until the end of the business day on Friday, June 17 to choose new health plans. But because of the judge's stay, the options are limited.

"So currently, until such time as the trial court's order is reversed or superseded --- or emergency contracts can be completed, the only enrollment options for members are HMO Illinois, Blue Advantage HMO, or the Quality Care health plan, which is done through CIGNA," Nayyar said.

CoGFA member and State Senator Mike Frerichs (D-Champaign) said the contracts on the commission agenda could create more temporary health contract options.

"This anticipated vote --- at this point we don't know exactly what's going to happen --- but this anticipated vote would give the department the flexibility to go out and negotiate 90-day emergency healthcare contracts, and it would mostly likely be with current health care providers," Frerichs said.

But State Senator Jeff Schoenberg (D-Chicago), who is the commission's co-chairman, said the panel may not be a necessary gatekeeper for that decision either.

"The director has the authority to issue emergency 90-day contracts," Schoenberg said.

That would be Director of Healthcare and Familiy Services Julie Hamos, who will be at the meeting to present those options and elicit input from commission members.

If nothing changes in the next few days, state employees and retirees can expect far fewer choices when picking out a new health plan.

Whatever the options, the University of Illinois is telling its employees to choose a health care plan by Friday, June 17th. The U of I says employees could still choose one of the open access plans --- in the hopes that new court action will make them available before the week is over. However, if the plans remain unavailable, the university says those employees would automatically be put under the Quality Care Plan.

State officials say workers should check the CMS Benefits Choice website frequently for updates, under "State Employee Insurance and Benefit Programs.

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - June 13, 2011

Battle Over Health Plans Leaves State Employees With Uncertain Options

(UPDATE: This story has been updated to reflect new info from the University of Illinois, the Department of Central Management Services and the Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability).

State employees in Illinois are left with uncertain choices for their health insurance plan.

A judge's order on Friday put a stay on two open access plans on the menu of new health insurance plans for state workers. The state Department of Healthcare and Family Services is appealing the stay, which was sought by Health Alliance and Humana, two health care companies whose plans were rejected. But in the meantime, Alka Nayyar of the state Department of Central Management Services says employees have until the end of business this Friday to choose among the plans that remain.

"Currently, until such time as the trial court's order is reversed or superseded --- or emergency contracts can be completed --- the only enrollment options for members are HMO Illinois, Blue Advantage HMO, or the Quality Care health plan, which is done through CIGNA," Nayyar said.

The two HMO plans are only available in 38 Illinois counties. According to Nayyar, those counties are: Boone, Christian, Cook, DeKalb, DuPage, Fulton, Kane, Kankakee, Kendall, Lake, Logan, Macoupin, Madison, Marshall, McHenry, Menard, Monroe, Morgan, Ogle, Peoria, Randolph, Saint Clair, Sangamon, Tazewell, Will, Winnebago and Woodford.

This list is substantially different from one released by CMS a few weeks ago. For instance, Macon and DeWitt Counties, which were previously listed as being covered by the two new HMO plans, are not on the latest list.

The other plan, Quality Care is more expensive--it's the one workers get automatically if they don't make a choice this week.

A notice sent out by the University of Illinois says employees may still choose the PersonalCare or HealthLink open access plans, if they live in a county where the plans are available. But the U of I's Human Resources office says they will only receive the coverage if a change is made by the state to un-block those plans. Otherwise, those employees will automatically be placed in the Quality Care plan.

An emergency contract could be another option. If such a plan is confirmed, it would be a short-term health care plan--perhaps for 90 days--that would be added to the health plan menu this week. The legislative Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability will discuss emergency health insurance contracts at its meeting Tuesday at 12 PM in Chicago.

But whatever the options, the University of Illinois is telling its employees to choose a health care plan by Friday, June 17th.

State officials says workers should check the CMS Benefits Choice website frequently for updates, under "State Employee Insurance and Benefit Programs.

Categories: Government, Health, Politics

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