From AP - News Headlines -

Lawmakers Hold Hearing on State Health Insurance Contracts

State legislators continue to give state employees a venue to air their grievances about the potential loss of their health care plan.

Members of the Senate Insurance Committee met Monday, and heard from about a dozen university workers and state employees whose HMO is Urbana-based Health Alliance.

Officials with the Department of Health Care and Family Services decided in May to end Illinois' 30-year relationship with Health Alliance, saying it would award HMO contracts for the next fiscal year to Blue Cross Blue Shield, with Open Access Plan contracts to PersonalCare and HealthLink.

The state estimates the new contracts would save taxpayers over $100 million a year, and over one billion dollars over the next ten years.

"This decision to drop Health Alliance is about more than bureaucratic procedure, state contracts, or budget numbers," State Senator Mike Frerichs (D-Champaign) said. "It's about potentially disrupted care, loss of long-standing patient-doctor relationships, and lack of access to quality health care at an affordable cost for tens of thousands of people in downstate Illinois."

State Senator John Jones (R-Mount Vernon) made an ultimatum to Governor Pat Quinn and Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services Director Julie Hamos. Jones said he may hold off on voting for certain pieces of legislation until the Health Alliance controversy is solved.

"There's a lot of major legislation that needs to be passed in the next few days, including a budget. It's time that all of us said, 'Hey governor, and Director Hamos, if you want that done, you better take care of this first," he said.

Officials from from the University of Illinois, Health Alliance, and Humana testified before the committee. However, there were no representatives present from from the Governor's Office or the Department of Healthcare and Family Services.

Humana Illinois also had its contract dropped.

One of the biggest gripes has been the dearth of facts leading up to the state's decision.

"It's shocking the lack of transparency and information when you're talking about a topic like health insurance and the magnitude of the cost," Humana Illinois Dave Reynolds said.

But health department officials say they are just following the law.

"We've had to be very conservative in what we can tell the public, legislators and even the press so as to not violate the strict ethical rules in the process," Healthcare and Family Services spokeswoman Stacey Solano said.

Solano said as soon as there is a ruling by a state ethics commission on Health Alliance and Humana's objections, the administration will be able to explain its decision. She said that should put to rest employees' fears and anxiety, which she said are "being fed by misinformation."

The Committee of Government Forecasting and Accountability (COGFA) is set to meet Wednesday, May 25 to discuss the matter.

Attorney General Lisa Madigan recently ruled it is not within lawmakers' power to approve or deny the contracts in question.

Categories: Government, Health, Politics