Illinois Public Media News

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - August 16, 2011

Illinois Panel Votes to Extend State Health Insurance Contracts

A legislative panel has voted 8-1 to authorize the state to negotiate health insurance contract extensions through the end of June 2012.

All vendors providing health insurance coverage for state workers, including Urbana-based Health Alliance, will be able to negotiate nine-month extensions following Tuesday's decision by the Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability (COGFA). State Senator and COGFA member Mike Frerichs said the extension should provide relief for a lot of people.

"I think for now the legislature has done its part," Frerichs said. "It's now up to the health insurance providers, and the (Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services) to work out the terms of the deal."

Orland Park House Democrat Kevin McCarthy cast the only dissenting vote.

The state health contracts have been operating for the last few months under a 90-day extension that is due to expire at the end of September. A state appellate court recently upheld a Sangamon County judge's ruling, preventing the state from moving ahead with new health contracts for state employees and retirees. Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn's administration has argued the so-called 'open access' plans will save the state about $100 million a year.

"We are very happy to been given the opportunity to negotiate a longer-term contract to continue serving state workers and their families," Health Alliance CEO Jeff Ingrum said in a statement. "Every day we receive calls from our state members wanting to know if they'll be able to stay with Health Alliance."

But insurers may not get a rate increase from the state over what they're getting currently. In addressing the panel Tuesday, Ingrum compared his provider's rates with that of another provider.

"We are looking at the rate increase and just seeing in this environment to extend a rate from FY 11 to a full year," he said. "If that would be the ultimate terms, it would be a bit unreasonable given the fact that Blue Cross (Blue Shield) got an increase."

Print reports indicate Ingrum is seeking a rate hike of around 5-percent. A company spokeswoman, Jane Hayes, said she understands the state's needs to save money by dropping Health Alliance. However, she said she has a great deal of confidence that Health Alliance will be able to reach a deal with the state.

State Senator Shane Cultra (R-Onarga) praised the vote by COGFA.

"Finally, thousands of central Illinoisans can breathe a sigh of relief," Cultra said in a statement. "We must fix the current process now, so we are not sitting here next May without a permanent solution in place for the 100,000 state workers and retirees who have faced this uncertainty since this process began."

The state is scheduled to argue before a Sangamon County judge later this week to argue whether COGFA has the authority to extend the current health insurance contract. However, Sen. Frerichs said Gov. Quinn's office recently filed a motion to dismiss that case.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - August 16, 2011

Status Hearing Scheduled for Rezko

A convicted influence peddler remains on track to be sentenced weeks after his one-time benefactor, former Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

Prosecutors said at a status hearing Tuesday that they want to stick with an Oct. 21 sentencing date for Tony Rezko.

The government has portrayed Rezko as the ultimate insider who pulled strings in Blagojevich's administration.

A jury convicted Rezko in 2008 of squeezing kickbacks from businessmen eager to land state contracts.

The 56-year-old appeared at Tuesday's hearing in jail clothes and chains binding his ankles. He smiled weakly and waived at relatives on courtroom benches.

Jurors convicted Blagojevich for corruption in June. His sentencing date is Oct. 6.

Rezko's sentencing was repeatedly delayed to leave the possibility he could testify at Blagojevich's trial. But the government never called him.


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - August 15, 2011

Millikin Wellness Center Expands

The students and employees of Millikin University won't have to go far to get clinical care.

For the last few years, the Millikin Wellness Center has provided care only to undergraduate students. However, now Millikin employees and all other students can use the center because of a contractual agreement between the university and Decatur Memorial Hospital. The hospital will expand services at the clinic by providing a full-time nurse practitioner, who will handle much of the extra case load.

"What we found is by using a partner we could do it at the same cost, but expand the services," Millikin's Vice President for Enrollment, Richard Dunsworth, said.

Approximately 1,500 students visited the clinic last year and it's expected that roughly 2,000 people will come to the expanded center, according to Dunsworth. He said he hopes the clinic can eventually turn into a working laboratory for Millikin's School of Nursing.

"With a full-time nurse practitioner there, that will allow us to expand it as a possible clinical site for undergraduate nurses, as well as our graduate nurses," Dunsworth said. "So, our nursing faculty is quite excited to see what the options might be."

Dunsworth said the clinic will also have an office manager on staff, who will be able to look up a patient's insurance information, and transfer medical information to nearby health care offices.

The Millikin Wellness Center, which is located at 150 South Fairview Ave in Decatur, offers a range of services, including medicine management, pregnancy tests, and blood pressure screenings.

Categories: Education, Health


AP - Illinois Public Media News - August 15, 2011

Durbin Backs Duckworth in 8th Congressional District Race

U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin is making a rare endorsement in a primary election. The Illinois Democrat is backing Tammy Duckworth's 2012 campaign for Congress.

Durbin recruited Tammy Duckworth for a 2006 congressional bid, but the Iraq War veteran and Purple Heart recipient lost to Republican Rep. Peter Roskam. After that, former Gov. Rod Blagojevich appointed her to lead the state Department of Veterans Affairs, and then Duckworth took a job at the federal VA in Washington, DC.

She's returned to Illinois to run again, and Durbin is again backing her.

"I'm going to help Tammy Duckworth in any way that I can," Durbin said Monday. "By endorsing her today, campaigning for her, helping her raise money. It's an expensive undertaking."

Duckworth begins the money race well behind another Democrat running in the 8th Congressional District, former deputy state treasurer Raja Krishnamoorthi - who reported raising more than $400,000 dollars in the second quarter.

Both Duckworth and Krishnamoorthi are hoping to take advantage of new, Democratic-drawn boundaries for the district. Republicans, including the current 8th District congressman, Joe Walsh, are challenging that map in a federal lawsuit.

(AP Photo/M. Spencer Green, File)

Categories: Biography, Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - August 15, 2011

Illinois Lottery Sales Hit Record $2.3 Billion Last Year

Sales of Illinois lottery tickets grew by 3 percent last year to set a new record.

Officials said Monday that sales totaled nearly $2.3 billion. That tops the old record of $2.2 billion, which was set just a year earlier.

Out of that revenue, $690 million was used to support state programs. Education got most of the money, but statewide construction projects got $54 million and $4 million went to causes like research on breast cancer and multiple sclerosis.

The sales figures are from the 12 months that ended on June 30. The total of nearly $2.3 billion amounts to more than $177 for every person in Illinois.

Lottery officials say sales have climbed every year for nine straight years.

Categories: Economics, Sports
Tags: economy, sports

AP - Illinois Public Media News - August 15, 2011

Trial Over Hot Dog Ads Ends 1st Day in Chicago

The nation's largest hot dog makers argued about the meaning of "100 percent pure beef" and the merits of ketchup Monday in a lawsuit over advertising claims stemming from their years of dog-eat-dog competition.

Attorneys for Sara Lee Corp., which makes Ball Park franks, and Kraft Foods Inc., which makes Oscar Mayer, superimposed giant hot dogs on a courtroom screen as they delivered opening remarks in a case that could clarify how far companies can go when boasting about their products.

"There's never been anything of this scope . . . in the entire history of hot dogs," Sara Lee's attorney, Richard Leighton, said about what the company says is Kraft's false and deceptive ad campaign that claimed Oscar Mayer wieners were the best-tasting franks.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Morton Denlow, who will decide if either company broke false advertising laws, couldn't resist a note of levity as he cast his eyes at the attorneys and proclaimed, "Let the wiener wars begin."

The legal dog fight began when Sara Lee filed a lawsuit in 2009, singling out Oscar Mayer ads that brag its dogs beat Ball Park franks in a national taste test. Leighton argued the tests were deeply flawed and gave as an example that the hot dogs were presented to participants without buns or any condiments, such as ketchup.

"They were served boiled hot dogs on a white paper plate," he told Denlow. As a result, Leighton said, Sara Lee's hot dogs may well have tasted too salty or smoky when consumed sans buns.

Among other flaws, he went on, was a rule barring anyone who ever worked in a factory from taking the test.

"You may be excluding blue-collar workers," he said. "And they're big hot-dog eaters."

Kraft filed a countersuit later in 2009, accusing Sara Lee of running ads for Ball Parks with the tagline "America's Best Franks" based on an award from ChefsBest, a food-judging organization based in San Francisco.

The other focus of the trial is Kraft's claim that its Oscar Mayer Jumbo Beef Franks are "100 percent pure beef." Sara Lee says the claim is untrue, that it cast aspersions on Ball Park franks and damaged their sales.

But Kraft's attorney, Stephen O'Neil, told the judge the 100 percent beef tag was never intended to suggest there weren't other ingredients -- like water, salt and various spices. It was only meant to convey that the meat that was used was all beef, he said.

That stress was designed to counter lingering impressions that hot dogs contain suspect, "mysterious meats," he added. And he said it defied common sense to argue that consumers might take the label as meaning that the one and only ingredient was beef.

"If there was nothing but beef, it wouldn't be a hot dog," he said, "It would be a hamburger."

Denlow let slip that, according to his own personal tastes, neither Oscar Mayer nor Ball Park are top dog.

"I already have my favorite . . . and it's none of the brands on trial," he told attorneys. He said he may reveal which one it is -- but only after a ruling.

The trial is expected to last about two weeks.

Categories: Business
Tags: business

AP - Illinois Public Media News - August 15, 2011

Judge Denies Request to Block Indiana Voucher Program

A judge has denied a temporary injunction that would have blocked Indiana's broad new school voucher program.

Marion County Judge Michael Keele sided with the state in his ruling Monday and against a group of teachers and religious leaders backed by the Indiana State Teachers Association. They tried to block the measure passed this year by the Republican-dominated General Assembly and signed into law by Gov. Mitch Daniels.

Attorneys for the state argued before Keele last week that granting the injunction could force students who received vouchers to leave their private schools just as the instruction year is beginning and scramble to re-enroll in public schools.

Keele ruled only on the plaintiffs' request for a preliminary injunction. Their complaint challenging the law hasn't gone to trial yet.

Categories: Education, Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - August 15, 2011

Quinn Wants to Work Out School Official Pay

Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn says he wants to work with regional school superintendents on who should pay their salaries.

Superintendents across Illinois are working for free after Quinn in early July eliminated the funds that pay them and their assistants. That's because there's a budget dispute over where the money to pay them should come from.

Quinn said Monday he thinks "we can work that out'' but provided no details.

He maintains that superintendents should be paid from the "personal property replacement tax'' that corporations and business partnerships pay instead of local property taxes.

He has characterized superintendents' jobs as "administrative overhead'' and called them "bureaucrats'' that aren't central to teaching process. He contends the state should spend its money in the classroom.

Categories: Education, Government, Politics

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - August 15, 2011

Unit 4 Officials Say Supt. Search Process Off to Good Start

Champaign School officials say they have received hundreds of responses to their survey asking the public what qualities they want to see in their next school superintendent.

Unit 4 School Board President Sue Grey said distribution during the spring term and in the summer during school registration events has yielded a return of nearly 800 surveys--and that doesn't include surveys handed out during Champaign-Urbana Days over the weekend in Douglass Park. Grey said those surveys will guide the search firm hired to help select a new superintendent.

"They're compiling the data, putting together a superintendent profile, based on what our community is telling us," Grey said.

Grey said the survey results will help in designing a profile of what qualities the next Unit Four superintendent should have. In the meantime, she says the search firm, School Exec Connect, is already looking for applicants.

"They actually do have advertisements out in two national publications that are very familiar to the education community," Grey said. "We're pleased with the results. They say they're actually getting some nibbles."

Consultants from School Exec Connect, will be in Champaign in mid-September to gather public input face to face. That visit will include a public meeting on the evening of Sept. 12 at Centennial High School. Until then, Unit 4 officials say they will continue to take surveys from the public, as well as applications from people interested in serving on a community search committee.

Champaign School officials hope to hire a new superintendent by the start of 2012. That person will succeed Arthur Culver, who stepped down in June. Robert Malito is serving as interim superintendent, but is limited to 100 working days in the position.

Categories: Education

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