Ill. Legislative Commission Considers Emergency Health Contracts

June 13, 2011

A state legislative commission could vote Tuesday afternoon on a proposal to allow emergency contracts to be drawn up to provide short-term health care plans for state employees.

The Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability will meet in Chicago, and the short-term contracts are on the agenda. The measure would authorize the use of 90-day health plan contracts based on current programs that expire June 30th.

A Sangamon County judge's order on Friday, June 10, put a stay on two open access plans on the menu of new health insurance plans for state workers. The state Department of Healthcare and Family Services is appealing the stay, which continues while a judge considers lawsuits filed by Health Alliance and Humana.

Without the Open Access Plans plans --- or any emergency replacements --- state workers will have to choose between the state's more expensive Quality Care health plan, and two HMO plans that serve just 38 counties: Boone, Christian, Cook, DeKalb, DuPage, Fulton, Kane, Kankakee, Kendall, Lake, Logan, Macoupin, Madison, Marshall, McHenry, Menard, Monroe, Morgan, Ogle, Peoria, Randolph, Saint Clair, Sangamon, Tazewell, Will, Winnebago and Woodford.

Spokesperson Alka Nayyar of the state Department of Central Management Services said state workers have until the end of the business day on Friday, June 17 to choose new health plans. But because of the judge's stay, the options are limited.

"So currently, until such time as the trial court's order is reversed or superseded --- or emergency contracts can be completed, the only enrollment options for members are HMO Illinois, Blue Advantage HMO, or the Quality Care health plan, which is done through CIGNA," Nayyar said.

CoGFA member and State Senator Mike Frerichs (D-Champaign) said the contracts on the commission agenda could create more temporary health contract options.

"This anticipated vote --- at this point we don't know exactly what's going to happen --- but this anticipated vote would give the department the flexibility to go out and negotiate 90-day emergency healthcare contracts, and it would mostly likely be with current health care providers," Frerichs said.

But State Senator Jeff Schoenberg (D-Chicago), who is the commission's co-chairman, said the panel may not be a necessary gatekeeper for that decision either.

"The director has the authority to issue emergency 90-day contracts," Schoenberg said.

That would be Director of Healthcare and Familiy Services Julie Hamos, who will be at the meeting to present those options and elicit input from commission members.

If nothing changes in the next few days, state employees and retirees can expect far fewer choices when picking out a new health plan.

Whatever the options, the University of Illinois is telling its employees to choose a health care plan by Friday, June 17th. The U of I says employees could still choose one of the open access plans --- in the hopes that new court action will make them available before the week is over. However, if the plans remain unavailable, the university says those employees would automatically be put under the Quality Care Plan.

State officials say workers should check the CMS Benefits Choice website frequently for updates, under "State Employee Insurance and Benefit Programs.

Story source: WILL