From WILL - News Headlines -

Ill. Appellate Court Upholds Health Insurance Contract Ruling

An Illinois Appellate Court has upheld a Sangamon County judge's ruling, preventing the state from moving ahead with new health insurance contracts for state employees and retirees.

In June, a Sangamon County Circuit Judge prevented Illinois' Department of Healthcare and Family Services from dropping Urbana-based Health Alliance, leaving the health insurance policies of thousands of state workers into doubt.

Gov. Pat Quinn's administration argued the so-called 'open access' plans will save the state about $100 million a year. Health Alliance then filed suit. The 90-day extensions of current contracts granted by the Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability are set to expire in September.

In its ruling, the 4th District Appellate Court said the state ignored a decision by that group. Champaign Senator Mike Frerichs is part of the bipartisan legislative commission. While the court's decision does not immediately impact state workers, he said it gives more fuel to additional extensions, and hopefully a long-term solution.

"I think what employees want is to be able to continue access to their health care providers, and I'm hopeful this ruling will help us get to that point," Frerichs said.

In a statement, Health Alliance CEO Jeff Ingrum called the court's ruling encouraging, with hopes that it leads to the provider remaining an option for state workers and retirees.

"This is good news for all of those who fought so hard to keep Health Alliance," Ingrum said. "We hope it leads to Health Alliance remaining an option for state workers and retirees."

The Department of Healthcare and Family Services said the state is reviewing its legal options following the court ruling.

"We remain confident in the process of awarding and contracting with the winning vendors as well as their ability to offer quality healthcare at a price that will save the state money during these tough fiscal times," said Mike Claffey, spokesman for the Department of Healthcare and Family Services.

At a COGFA hearing scheduled for Aug. 16 in Chicago, the panel will vote on extending the current insurance contracts through June 30, 2012. Three days later, the state will argue before the Sangamon County Judge that blocked the new contracts whether COGFA has the authority to extend the current ones.