Illinois Public Media News
The new state budget eliminates funding for the Illinois Cares Rx program, which helped pay prescription drug costs for low-income Illinoisans. Some of those beneficiaries can find help from other programs. Now, two Champaign-Urbana lawmakers hope to pass a bill to help seniors with no other options.
Before it was cut as part of Medicaid reform, Illinois Cares Rx helped more than 180,000 people with disabilities. The proposed Seniors Pharmaceutical Assistance Relief program would help an estimated 80,000 seniors only. But sponsors Mike Frerichs (D-Champaign) in the state Senate and Naomi Jakobsson (D-Urbana) in the House say the measure would save money in the long run.
'Prescription drugs are part of modern health care," Frerichs said. "If a doctor says this is part of your treatment to regain your health, to retain your health, and someone goes home and says I can't afford them, and doesn't take them, it's going to cause other problems, and those will come back to us in the Medicaid system."
But Jakobsson admits finding the money in recently signed budget will be a challenge.
"I think we're just going to have to look at the rest of the budget, and as some things were vetoed out of the budget, maybe there might be some money to cover this," Jakobsson said.
Jakobsson and Frerichs hope to see their measure voted on during the fall veto session. Meanwhile, they are talking to lawmakers and legislative leaders to build support for their proposals.
Frerichs and Jakobsoon introduced the proposal in both chambers (as Senate Bill 3923 and House Bill 6178) during the last week of the spring legislative session. Decatur Republican Adam Brown is co-sponsoring the House measure.
Two county clerks from downstate Illinois are throwing their support to an effort to defend the state's gay marriage ban in court.
In May, twenty-five gay and lesbian couples represented by the ACLU and Lambda Legal launched separate cases that were later consolidated, which argued that Illinois' same-sex marriage ban is unconstitutional.
The Effingham and Tazewell county clerks decided to intervene after Cook County's State's Attorney and the Illinois Attorney General refused to defend the marriage ban.
Tazewell County Clerk Christie Webb said she has no position on gay marriage, but just wants to ensure there's a uniform law for all counties.
Effingham County Clerk Kerry Hirtzel said the marriage debate should stay out of court.
"This I realize is a volatile subject, I suppose, but it should be changed by our legislature or a vote of our people of the state," Hirtzel said.
But Camilla Taylor, who is the lead lawyer in Lambda Legal's lawsuit, said this is exactly the type of issue that belongs in a courtroom.
"When a law deprives you of your dignity, your equality, and your humanity, you always go to the court to vindicate your state constitutional guarantees," Taylor said.
Taylor said she doesn't object to the county clerks intervening in this case since she says they have a right to voice their concerns.
The Thomas More Society, which is a public-interest law firm that opposes gay marriage, is representing the county clerks.
Gov. Mitch Daniels is touting state cash reserves he says will send an additional $100 to each Indiana taxpayer through automatic tax credits next year.
Daniels said Tuesday he expects the state to close its books for the fiscal year with $2 billion in cash reserves. Roughly $300 million would go to 2013's tax credits and another $300 million would go toward the state's unfunded teacher pension liability.
Final numbers won't be available for at least another week as state budget leaders continue wrapping up the fiscal year that ended Saturday.
The cash reserves have come from a mix of three major factors _ improved tax collections, spending cuts to state agencies and an error in which the Daniels administration discovered $320 million in untouched tax collections.
Congressman John Shimkus believes the U.S. Supreme Court's decision to uphold the Affordable Care Act resulted from a lack of debate in Congress.
The 19th District Republican from Collinsville said he was right on the individual mandate, and that the Commerce Clause can't be used to force a person to buy a good or service. But Shimkus said it was surprising that the high court used taxing authority to confirm the law was constitutional.
Speaking to Champaign County's Active Senior Republicans Monday, Shimkus said the bill wouldn't have passed in the first place if it were part of the legislative debate in Washington.
"And then I segue into the frustration that there was some deception by the legislative branch and the president," he said. "(President Obama) knew it was a tax, and was trying to portray it as not a tax to get to the final conclusion where they're at today, with a piece of legislation that is now the law of the land."
Congressman Tim Johnson (R-Urbana) has laid out a vision for his final months in public office, a time he believes that may call for allowing some tax cuts to expire.
In what was described as his first town hall meeting back home in years, Johnson told the more than 100 attendees at Urbana Middle School that he was simply there to listen.
A question regarding tax credits for wind energy prompted the Republican to suggest more than cuts for dealing with a national deficit exceeding $16-trillion.
"Everybody is in room is going to have to share in the sacrifice that's necessary to deal with the debt - including taxpayers who make a lot of money," Johnson said. "Am I philosophically enthralled with the idea of a confiscatory tax system? No, I'm not, because I don't think that's what America is all about. But the reality is, we've got to raise more revenue."
Johnson said the shared sacrifice needs to not only come from personal sacrifice, but each side of the political aisle... to examine other tax credits and loopholes.
"If you give us a huge tax bill - legislation that extends all the tax cuts, I can't say no to a middle class taxpayer just because they also extend the tax cuts to the highest-income Americans,' Johnson said. "But we have to look at that. It's not palatable, it's not philosophically something I support, but it's something we very well may have to do to get a grip on this national debt."
Johnson also took questions on his opposition to military conflicts overseas, immigration, and political discord in Washington.
The retiring Congressman says he has yet to hear from his replacement on the ballot for Illinois' re-drawn 13th Congressional District about a possible endorsement. Johnson said he and Rodney Davis have only spoken for a few minutes.
When his term is up in January and comes home, Johnson said he still plans to do limited work for a local law firm, and teach upper level political science classes at either the University of Illinois, or Illinois State University.
The Congressman said either school would be fine, but believes ISU may better suit his schedule.
(Photo by Jeff Bossert/WILL)
The wait continues for 20,000 state workers hoping to be paid salary hikes they were supposed to get a year ago.
Rather than deciding if they should get the raises, a Cook County judge passed the decision to an arbitrator. It's a situation members of Illinois' largest public employees union, AFSCME, had never before found themselves in.
Although their contract with the state guaranteed union members' would see their wages go up by more than 5 percent last year, 20,000 workers instead saw their paychecks remain steady. AFSCME spokesman Anders Lindall said state employees deserve to be fairly compensated.
"We've never encountered a unilateral pay freeze imposed by an employer like this before," Lindall said. "People are upset, they're angry, they want out of their way repeatedly to defer promised increases, to take furlough days ... and the thanks they've gotten is for the Governor to walk away from his side of the agreement and refuse to make them whole in the end."
Gov. Pat Quinn said he had to cancel the raises because the budget didn't include enough money to pay them.
The two sides have been battling it out in court.
Rather than settle the matter, a Cook County circuit court judge has sent it back to an independent arbitrator. The arbitrator will have to decide if, in fact, Illinois didn't have money to pay the employees.
The Supreme Court has upheld the Affordable Care Act's health insurance requirement for most Americans, as well as other elements of the health care overhaul. The High Court ruled in a 5-4 vote that the health insurance requirement for most Americans in the Affordable Care Act was not, in fact, a mandate, but a tax.
(With additional reporting from The Associated Press)
Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn signed a $33.7 billion state budget for 2013, but not before cutting $57 million from it that lawmakers had originally sent him.
The budget cuts discretionary spending by $1.4 billion from last year, and paid $1.3 billion in old bills, closes and consolidates 57 facilities and restructures the state's Medicaid program.
But the cuts include millions lost for school funding, public safety, mental health facilities with no plan to address rising pension costs.
The bill cuts education funding by $200 million and child-welfare spending by $85 million.
"Cutting the budget is never easy but we must make the difficult decisions necessary to restore fiscal stability to Illinois," Quinn said during a late Saturday morning press conference at the Thompson Center in downtown Chicago.
Quinn says his actions will save the state about $82 million in the coming year by shuttering the facilities.
The closures include: - Tamms Correctional Center, Dwight Correctional Center, Southern Illinois Adult Transition Center, Decatur Adult Transition Center and the Westside Adult Transition Center in Chicago; - Illinois Youth Center in Murphysboro and Illinois Youth Center in Joliet; - Tinley Park Mental Health Center, Singer Mental Health Center and Jacksonville Development Center.
Quinn says he wants to redirect at least $50 million back to the Department of Children and Family Services that lawmakers had originally cut out.
"Are we going to keep outdated, half-full facilities or are we going to invest and make sure we protect vulnerable children who are in danger of being neglected and hurt," Quinn said.
Quinn will have to work with lawmakers to restore that funding during the veto session in November.
Quinn is also hoping to get back $165 million from the U.S. Department of Corrections if it choses to buy the Tamms supermax prison. Quinn says the state is in negotiations with the federal government but it might take a while to complete. The prison is scheduled to be closed by the end of August.
Quinn noted that the amount of the budget going toward state pensions is now three times what it was five years ago.
He says of the 2013 budget, about $5.3 billion is to pay retirement costs for teachers and other state employees.
In 2008, it cost was $1.7 billion.
"We cannot continue on a path of having more and more of our budget devoted to pensions. The crying need to have pension reform is right now," Quinn said.
But lawmakers left Springfield at the end of May without approving a pension reform package. Leaders have been meeting in Chicago ever since but still no deal.
The hang-up appears to be a plan to shift pension costs from the state to suburban and downstate school districts. There's little confidence, however, anything will get worked out before the fall elections.
Champaign County Restaurants Fail Inspections
(Reported by Pam G. Dempsey of CU-CitizenAccess)
Public health officials continue to give failing scores to restaurants in Champaign County each month, but after more than three years of study they still have not decided how to make those inspections routinely public.
Clinic, Small Business Group, Respond to ACA Ruling
A spokesman for a Champaign clinic helping those with little to no insurance sees Thursday's ruling on the Affordable Care Act as a positive, helping 30-to-50 million people across the country.
But Ben Mueller says Avicenna Community Health Center will still likely see dozens of patients who are undocumented immigrants.
Mueller serves as director of outreach and partnerships for the facility managed by the Central Illinois Mosque. He expects free clinics and hospital emergency rooms to stay in demand until more federal efforts to help immigrants are in place.
Mueller notes President Barack Obama is developing ways to address that, citing the recent order that young people from overseas without criminal records would be exempt from deportation.
"We're in a political year, and the election could bring a whole set of policies," he said. "It's conceivable in the future that legislation such as the Dream Act would provide a path to citizenship. And there's other implications for immigration reform that may provide some relief for persons who do not have health insurance that are currently covered under the Affordable Care Act."
Mueller says there's a lot hinging on policies tied to the Affordable Care Act. He says Medicaid rolls in Champaign County alone have grown from nearly 24-thousand in 2006, to 33-thousand last year.
Governor Pat Quinn says he expects to expand the Medicaid rolls with the high court's ruling, relying on federal assistance.
The Supreme Court's decision also brings to question how it will impact small businesses.
Steven Banke with the Chicago-based Small Business Advocacy Council favors health care co-ops over the exchanges that most states, Including Illinois, have yet to organize.
Benke, who chairs that group's health care committee, says that idea would bring much-needed competition to the market.
He says the difference between the two is a little complicated. Banke compares a health care exchange to the foundation of a building, while a co-op and its insurance companies, are the tenants.
"It's a type of risk-bearing entity or insurance company if you will," he said. "And it will operate on the exchange alongside of all the carriers. So we will be one of those carriers, if you will, that will show up on the exchange, and people will see us right next to Blue Cross, Aetna, United Health Care, and so forth."
Banke says one of the biggest challenges for him to provide coverage to a small office is that no one program size fits all.
He's hoping the exchange or co-op will allow them to get whatever type of health care they need.
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