From AP - News Headlines -

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 benefitschoice.IL.gov

Categories: Government, Health, Politics