Saturday, March 31, 2012
Friday, March 30, 2012
Thursday, March 29, 2012
By Jamey Dunn
All areas of government could see cuts under a measure approved by the Illinois House today.
House Resolution 706 lumps Medicaid spending in with obligations, such as the pension payment and debt services, that would be paid before any other areas of spending are considered. The plan calls for $6.6 billion in Medicaid spending, which assumes that the legislature will be able to come up with the $2.7 billion reduction in Medicaid liability called for by Gov. Pat Quinn. If projected Medicaid spending for Fiscal Year 2013 is more than the $6.6 billion, the additional costs would come out of all other spending areas. The House also approved an identical resolution, House Joint Resolution 68, that the Senate could take up for a vote.
The proposal also sets aside $800 million to pay overdue bills. Of that, $500 million would go toward Medicaid bills, generating a federal match that would allow the state to pay off $1 billion, or about half of its current backlog of Medicaid payments.
But addressing all these issues upfront meant that other areas of the budget would suffer. Rep. David Harris, who worked on the bipartisan resolution, estimated that money for state operations would be cut by almost $900 million. “I do not think anyone in this House should feel good about House Resolution 706. It reflects the terrible situation that your state is in. Yet it is the right thing to do,” said Harris, an Arlington Heights Republican.
Rep. John Bradley, who presented the resolution on the House floor, said that today’s vote was the start of what will prove to be a painful budgeting process. “This is going to be the beginning of many difficult choices that we’re going to have to make. We should not take this lightly. We should not take this cavalierly. The decisions beginning today are going to be hard.”
Opponents called on the legislature to slow down instead of locking itself into a spending plan that calls for cuts to education, human services and public safety. Bradley, a Marion Democrat, said money for each area of spending was decided by taking the averages of historical spending in the area.
“I’ve been doing this for 20 years, and this is the worst process I have ever seen,’ said Rep. Rosemary Mulligan, a Des Plaines Republican. “I think this is a very complex situation to be reduced to this kind of minutia,that we put out with a resolution that says this is how were going to do it. …What you’re really doing is, you’re basically wrecking the budget for the people in the state of Illinois.”
House Speaker Michael Madigan said: “This is not something that is the result of a quick judgment. This is something that was done in a very deliberative manner.”
Some argued that lawmakers should consider raising new revenues before opting for drastic cuts. Rep. Will Davis, a Homewood Democrat, said that lawmakers should “engage in a discussion” about new revenue before passing a measure that would likely result in cuts. “We can’t get enough of us in this chamber to stop this process long enough to talk about additional revenue, wherever it comes from?” But Bradley said that it is the lack of support in the House for raising taxes or fees that is creating a roadblock for raising new revenues. “It’s a result of the inability to do that within this chamber. And so, whether or not there are sufficient votes within this chamber to do additional revenue, of whatever source it might be, that’s the impediment to the additional revenue, not this resolution.”
Madigan said the vote was necessary this week because next week is the start of the two-week break for legislators, and when they return, they will only be in session for seven weeks. “Given the difficulty of this task, seven weeks is not a long time. Seven weeks, given the difficulty of the task, is a rather brief time.”
Davis, who chairs the House Appropriations Committee for K-12 education, warned that members of the House budgeting committees must be prepared to make tough votes. “They’re not going to like what’s going to come out of my committee. It’s not going to be pretty. In my committee, everything will be on the table. … I hope you’re prepared to vote for that. Since we can’t stop this process long enough to talk about additional revenue, then let’s just be prepared for the pain that’s going to come in these appropriation committees.”
Quinn also opposes cuts to education. "This resolution recognizes that our Medicaid costs are unsustainable, and if major reductions are not made this fiscal year, education, public safety and our most vulnerable will get squeezed even further,” Kelly Kraft, a spokeswoman for the governor's budget office, said in a prepared statement. “The resolution also recognizes the need to pay the state’s bills that have been created over decades of fiscal mismanagement. We continue to work with the General Assembly and have proposed closing ineffective loopholes to pay these bills down.The governor proposed a responsible budget that ensures job growth, invests in education, pays our decades’ old bills, calls for $2.7 billion in Medicaid reductions and additional pension changes to stabilize the system. We do not agree with reductions in education. We feel strongly that Illinois residents want to protect and invest in education to make certain that our students do not get left behind."
Davis and some Chicago-area lawmakers also suggested that the road fund, an area of spending important to downstate legislators, be considered for cuts. Luis Arroyo, a Chicago Democrat and chair of the House public safety budgeting committee, said the road fund would be on the table for cuts. House Minority Leader Tom Cross said such threats that play on regional divides are harmful to the budgeting process. “We’re at a time where we’re going to have to confront these problems with some fiscal discipline — some cutting and some reforming, [and] try to be fair across the board to … all regions. But it’s not going to be solved by raising more revenue. We can’t do that.” He said that the budgeting process is feeling the squeeze from growing pension costs, which are “crowding out” other areas of spending. “You find yourself in a position of having very little choice but to cut.” Cross renewed his call for the approval of a pension reform plan during the spring legislative session.
Quinn said today that he thinks “fundamental pension reform” will take place this year. “This is going to be, I think, a watershed year where we really straighten out things that have gone on for far too long, and the taxpayers have been required, I think, to pay for things that just aren’t right.”
Madigan characterized the resolution as a compromise based on the amount of money the state is expected to take in next year. “Not everybody is happy with the number in the resolutions because some people would like the numbers to be higher, and some people would like the numbers to be lower. And so, this is a compromise — a compromise predicated upon the best information available to the General Assembly.”
Wednesday, March 28, 2012
Tuesday, March 27, 2012
By Jamey Dunn
An Illinois House committee tasked with investigating a lawmaker who was arrested on bribery charges kicked off proceedings today.
The House Special Investigative Committee will consider the charge that Smith misused his office by accepting a bribe for services rendered from his position as a legislator. Investigators contend that he accepted a $7,000 bribe in exchange for writing a letter on his legislative letterhead recommending a daycare center for a construction grant. Smith was the subject of a federal sting. The daycare center was not actually seeking a grant, but prosecutors say Smith believed he was accepting a bribe for the letter.
Smith did not show up for the hearing today. He has not been present for legislative session in Springfield since he was arrested March 13. He has also not spoken to the press or responded to requests for comment from Illinois Issues or other media outlets.
Smith won his primary election race in the 10th House District with 77 percent of the vote. However, it is likely that Democratic leaders hope to pressure him to leave the ticket so they can choose a replacement candidate.
David Ellis, counsel for the investigative committee, said that he called Smith last Wednesday when the committee was created. He said he emailed Smith to let him know when and where the hearing would take place. Ellis said Smith told him he was aware of the hearing.
“Rep. Smith has not been convicted of a crime. He has been arrested on the basis of a sworn criminal complaint. He is innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt following a full criminal trial,” said Rep. Elaine Nekritz, chair of the investigative committee. However, she added, “There are very serious allegations to be investigated by this committee.” Nekritz, a Northbrook Democrat, noted that the committee is not tasked with disciplining Smith. Instead, members must decide whether disciplinary actions are warranted. She said that there has not been a similar ethics charge in the chamber in recent history. “In anyone’s memory, there’s been no proceeding like this in the House, especially with the concurrent criminal investigation and charge out there.” But the proceedings are already drawing some comparisons to the impeachment and removal from office of former Gov. Rod Blagojevich.
Rep. Dennis Reboletti, an Elmhurst Republican, said the committee is a “hybrid” between a grand jury, which decides whether there is enough evidence to move forward with a case, and a preliminary hearing. Reboletti, a former state’s attorney, said that if the committee decides there is no reason to move forward with a disciplinary tribunal, Smith would be exonerated of the alleged breach of ethics. “Like a preliminary hearing,” Reboletti said, “Rep. Smith is allowed to attend and testify on his behalf, be represented by council and … cross examine any witnesses that appear before this committee.” Nekritz said Smith would have to testify under oath if he appears before the committee. The committee’s vote will have no effect on the criminal case against Smith.
Committee members voted unanimously to consult with U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald to ensure that their efforts would not interfere with the federal investigation. Nekritz said they would also ask if federal investigators would provide any evidence or witnesses to the committee. But Nekritz said such a move is unlikely. “We’re anticipating, frankly, that we have access to nothing, but we’ll see what they say.”
Nekrtiz said the committee would meet again when it receives a response from Fitzgerald. She estimated that the next meeting would be held on the week of April 8 and would likely take place in Chicago.
By Ashley Griffin
As lawmakers look to cut or reduce optional services in the Medicaid budget, some experts and advocates believe the proposed cuts could cost the state more in the long run.
Julie Hamos, director of the Department of Healthcare and Family Services, said that the department is looking into reducing or cutting up to 24 services that are not required by the federal government. The department is also considering limiting the amount of prescription drugs someone could receive, but for now, no child services are on the chopping block.
“They are actually called optional services by the federal government. We don’t consider them optional, like drugs. Are drugs an optional service? How do you keep people healthier without drugs? And drugs are $800 million of the optional services group,” Hamos said. The state could instead limit how often Medicaid patients could use some services. she said. “We can impose some utilization controls. That’s what other states have done.”
But with the number of Medicaid recipients increasing after many Illinoisans lost their jobs and health benefits during the recession, Hamos said that the state must address growing Medicaid costs before the system reaches the brink of collapsing. “I’m only talking about one year from now, in the next fiscal year. If we don’t make these very serious and painful reductions, we will have $4.7 billion of bills on hand, and we will not be able to pay our Medicaid providers for almost a year. That is not appropriate,” Hamos said.
Lawmakers are considering some reductions to services that seem like low-hanging fruit. For example, members of Gov. Pat Quinn’s administration have often cited reducing the number of pairs of eyeglasses patients can receive. Currently there is no limit. But experts say some potentially controversial cuts, such as reductions to hospice care and eliminating adult dental care, could end up costing the state more in the end.
“This is not a population that will get well. They are going to need health care regardless if hospice is existing or not, or available to them or not, and they will end up in higher cost components of the health care system if the hospice benefit is eliminated,” said Carolyn Handler, a representative from the Illinois Hospice Palliative Care Organization.
In a presentation last week to the Illinois Senate, Joy Johnson Wilson, health policy director for the National Conference of State Legislatures, made it clear that the state’s choices for cutting Medicaid are limited, but she said lawmakers must be careful when picking which optional services to cut. She said eliminating services could create larger costs elsewhere in the system. According to Wilson, some states that have eliminated adult dental care saw their hospitalization rates go up. Wilson said many of those states have since returned to covering dental care because the additional hospitalizations cost more than dental care.
“Basically, an optional program in Medicaid is an option simple because it wasn’t mandatory in 1965 when the program was enacted,” Wilson said. “Since 1965, we have added a number of benefits, including prescription drug coverage, which are optional in that the state does not have to have them. But many of the optional services are very critical to health care as we know it today.”
For more on the legislature’s efforts to cut more then $2 billion in Medicaid growth, see the current Illinois Issues.
Monday, March 26, 2012
By Jamey Dunn
Visitors to the state’s parks may soon be required to pay a fee.
The House approved a bill today that would allow the Illinois Department of Natural Resources to charge fees for entry to the parks. Under the measure, those wanting to go to parks would have the option of purchasing an annual pass or paying per day.
“The campers that go there see picnic tables broken, fire pits not maintained. There’s just certain things that you need to have a state park [be] safe — safe for our children safe for those who use [it],” said Rep. JoAnn Osmond, a sponsor of House Bill 5789. “This is a user fee. This is only for people that come and use the parks.”
As of last summer, the DNR said that there was $750 million in repairs and maintenance needed at the state’s parks. (For more on the deferred maintenance on state parks, see Illinois Issues July/August 2011.) Osmond, an Antioch Republican, said: “The parks are desperate for repairs. They need their roads repaired. They need buildings redone. They need the sewer [and] septic systems all refinished, and that’s what this bill is for. It’s to give the parks access to repairs.” Osmond estimates that her bill would create between $8 million and $9 million in revenue for DNR.
The bill leaves most of the details up to the department by simply giving it the power to collect fees. It does not set costs for the fees. Osmond said that imposing a fee would not create new administrative costs for the DNR. She said the fees would be enforced by the department’s conservation officers, much in the same way that hunting and fishing licenses are now, and new staff for enforcement would not be needed. “It’s really more on the honor system,” she said.
“No one likes to vote for a fee increase, but if we believe in having the parks, having them open and having them safe, then we need to do this,” said Rep. Donald Moffitt, a Republican from Gilson.
The legislation passed with bipartisan support, but several lawmakers said they were concerned that the money raised by fees would be swept into the General Revenue Fund and not go toward park maintenance. Osmond noted that most recently, Gov. Pat Quinn has practiced interfund borrowing — which requires that money taken from special funds be paid back with interest — instead of simply sweeping funds. Osmond said that since the repairs are so needed and Quinn supported reopening the parks after his predecessor, former Gov. Rod Blagojevich, closed many of them, it is unlikely he would want to sweep the funds. “I think that the chances of it being swept in the near future are very slim.” Blagojevich swept fees from several DNR funds but later had to replace some of the money that came from federal sources.
Rep. Jack Franks, a Marengo Democrat, argued that the legislation would not ensure that the fees go toward repairs. “There’s many new possibilities for the department to raise money on fees. What I don’t see in this bill is anything that would safeguard those monies. There’s nothing in this bill that would prevent a fund sweep.”
The bill now goes to the Senate.
By Jamey Dunn
Gov. Pat Quinn today called on the Illinois Senate to eliminate scholarships that lawmakers dole out and said a legislator accused of bribery should step down.
“It’s time for the Senate to act,” Quinn said when asked about a bill the House passed last week that would eliminate legislative scholarships. Quinn has twice tried to eliminate the program through amendatory vetoes, which have not been taken up by the legislature.
Quinn said that the money from the legislative scholarship — which have been the subject of controversy for years after some lawmakers have awarded them to the children of campaign contributors or politically connected families — should go into the Monetary Award Program. The MAP grants are awarded based on financial need. The program ran out of money for the year, so any students who applied after March 14 are not eligible for grants. “I really feel that it’s time for the Illinois Senate to step up and do what I’ve urged for two years in a row through the process of amendatory veto that the whole political scholarship program of the legislature be abolished,” Quinn said. “Especially in these times of austerity, where we saw last week the money that we have for needy college students, our monetary assistance program for needy students, all that money has been exhausted at the earliest time in, I think, Illinois history.” He urged Senate President John Cullerton to allow the House Bill 3810 to come up for a floor vote.
“It will get a hearing, and depending on the outcome, it will either move on or stay in committee,” Rikeesha Phelon, a spokeswoman for Cullerton, said in a written statement. “It will go through the normal legislative process.”
Supporters say that legislative scholarships ensure that some financial aid is spread equally throughout the state and argue that legislative tuition waivers are just a small portion of the total amount of waivers handed out by universities each year. General Revenue Fund dollars do not directly pay for tuition waivers, which are also handed out to veterans, graduate students and others, so universities must absorb the cost within their own budgets. Due to the controversy surrounding the program, some lawmakers have stopped awarding the tuition waiver, and others hand the decision over to independents panels or local administrators.
“We’re working on it,” said Champaign Democratic Sen. Michael Frerichs, who sponsors HB 3810. “I’m very hopeful we’ll get it passed this year.”
Quinn also said today that he thinks Rep. Derrick Smith, a Chicago Democrat who was arrested on bribery charges earlier this month, should resign. “I really feel that Rep. Smith would do himself a favor by taking the advice of Secretary of State Jesse White and many many others and resign.” White backed Smith’s appointment to the House but has since called for him to step down. Smith, who was the subject of a federal sting, is accused of accepting a $7,000 for helping a day care get a grant. Investigators say Smith was unaware that the scenario was all part of the sting. Smith won the Democratic primary for the House 10th District with 77 percent of the vote last week. However, it is likely that party leaders hope to push him out of the race and appoint a replacement candidate. An Illinois House Special Investigation Committee begins meeting tomorrow to decide whether the chamber should take up disciplinary action against Smith. The House could choose to reprimand, censure or expel Smith. “If he doesn’t resign, I think Rep. Smith should be aware that he may indeed be expelled,” Quinn said today. Smith did not return a call seeking comment.
Sunday, March 25, 2012
Saturday, March 24, 2012
Friday, March 23, 2012
By Jamey Dunn
The man tapped to be the next president of the University of Illinois says his first priorities are to learn the ropes and listen to what people have to say.
Robert Easter will take over for current President Michael Hogan, who announced that he plans to step aside July 1. “I think my primary responsibility over the next two or three months, especially during this interim period, is to listen to people and really get to know the issues,” he said today.
Hogan, an expert in American diplomacy, plans to stay on with the university as a tenured history professor, earning a $285,100 annual salary. Hogan will be able to take a one-year paid sabbatical with the professor's salary and then start work at the campus of his choosing in 2013. Hogan was hired as president in 2010 and had a salary of $651,000 this year.
Easter served as dean of the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences for seven years. He also served as interim chancellor of the Urbana-Champaign campus for two years, until last fall when current Chancellor Phyllis Wise came aboard. Easter said his most recent job serving as interim vice chancellor for research has kept him removed from many of the challenges that he will face as president. “I have been out of the conversation,” he said.
Easter earns $250,000 in his current post and will be paid $450,000 annually when he moves up to the position of president. He said he plans to travel to all the U of I campuses “to understand the challenges, to get to know the faculty, to get to know the leadership of the campuses that I need to work with.” He added, “I need to spend some time in Springfield and get to know the leaders there.”
He said he was not prepared to comment specifically on issues that have recently caused controversy, such as Hogan’s efforts to combine some functions across all three U of I campuses, including a centralized enrollment program that caused friction with faculty. But Easter did make some general statements on consolidation. “The challenge always is to find efficiencies, and sometimes, those efficiencies come about when you consolidate activities.” However, he said, “I think part of the genius of the University of Illinois is enabling local units, departments and colleges to be very nimble” in responding to the different issues they face.
Easter said about his appointment to the job, “It came about quickly.” He said he received a call from U of I Board of Trustees Chairman Christopher Kennedy over the weekend, and the two met to discuss the job. “We spent about two hours over breakfast, and he pretty much put it on the table.” Easter said he thinks the board felt a “sense of urgency to bring stability” to the university system.
The U of I has been plagued with controversy in recent years after an admissions scandal caused former-President B. Joseph White to step down in the fall of 2009. Since then, there have been incidents of inflation of grades and test scores at the university’s law school, and most recently, more than 125 faculty members signed on to a letter to the board of trustees that accused Hogan of a “lapse” in ethics, said he used bullying tactics and called for his resignation. Members of the board have said that they did not ask Hogan to step down, nor does his resignation imply he was guilty of any wrongdoing.
When asked why he took the job when the university is weathering scandals and budget concerns, Easter said: “I’d been a citizen of the U of I and an active part of the faculty for almost 40 years, so there’s some sense of responsibility. I think it’s an exciting job.” He added, “The U of I is populated by really great people, and I enjoy working with people.” Easter said he has made a two-year commitment to stay in the position.
Easter said the issues currently on his radar are budget concerns, pension reform and health care for university employees. He noted that changes to the pension system could be approved before he even steps into the new job. He said making college affordable for students is also a top concern. “Longer term, this is a period in American higher education where there’s uncertainty about what is the role of tier-one research universities.”
By Jamey Dunn
When legislators faced off in this week’s primary election, the candidates with the most cash generally prevailed. The new legislative map, drawn by Democrats, resulted in several Republican lawmakers running against each other last Tuesday.
In some cases, incumbent Republicans were drawn into the same district. Others challenged members of their party when they found themselves in a new and unfriendly district. For the most part, those who raised more campaign funds will have a shot at keeping their jobs.
According to information compiled by the Campaign for Political Reform, Sen. Carol Pankau, a Republican from Itasca who won her primary in the 23rd Senate District, raised $227,249. Her opponent Rep. Randy Ramey, a Republican from Carol Stream, raised $183,765. In the 25th Senate District, Hinsdale Republican Sen. Kirk Dillard raised $441,457 and defeated Rep. Chris Nybo, an Elmhurst Republican who raised $123,8555. Sen. Sam McCann, a Carlinville Republican and winner in the Senate District 50 primary, brought in $200,136. His opponent, Gray Noll, raised $42,255. Rep. Jason Barickman from Champaign beat out Sen. Shane Cultra from Onarga in the 53rd Senate District. Barickman raised $184,562, while Cultra had $149,203.
Former Gov. Jim Edgar said that the results of the primary demonstrated that Illinois Republicans are “pragmatic.” He said, “They would rather win than worry about ideology.” Edgar said that he thinks the party has become more conservative than when he served in office but has by no means swung severely to the right. “I think a lot of the incumbents who might be viewed more middle of the road in the party, they did pretty well.” Edgar said he thinks those who won and face a challenger in the general election will have a good shot at winning.
On the Democratic side, Sen. Mike Jacobs raised $519,120 and faced Mike Boland — a former House member who lost his bid for lieutenant governor in 2010 — who brought in $18, 970. Jacobs was the winner in the Senate 36th District Democratic primary.
One incumbent lost to a challenger who has not served in the General Assembly but outpaced him on contributions. Rep. Kent Gaffney from Lake Barrington was defeated in the House 52nd District Republican primary by David McSweeny, an investment banker with a background in politics. Gaffney raised $213,041, and McSweeny raised $285,846. “You see a handful of races like that where you’ve got money going up against organization,” said David Morrison, deputy director of the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform.
Morrison said the money totals only show what candidates brought in, not what they spent. He said smaller donations that have yet to be reported are not reflected . He added that some candidates spend more than they have or lend money to their campaigns and then try to raise more later to pay off the debt. “We have seen candidates before go into debt and then raise money after.” Still, he said, “this is the best measure we have of the resources that they have available.”
Morrison said the fundraising totals present a chicken-or-egg type of question: Did candidates win because they have more money, or do they have more money because they were favored to win? “A lot of the money that comes in on both sides, it’s from lobbyists, it’s from people who are political professionals,” he said. “Many groups who give to politicians don’t like to give to politicians who might lose. Part of the point of giving is to build a relationships with someone who is in office.”
In the 106th House District, which had no incumbent candidate, money seemed to play less of a factor. Tom Bennett was the biggest fundraiser in the Republican primary with $73,598. Winner John Harms raised $17,924. Morrison said the large field in the race might have played a role. “In theory, you can win with 21 percent of the vote in those kinds of races.” While Sue Scherer, who is backed by House Speaker Michael Madigan, outraised her competitors with $151, 288, she only won her race in the 96th House District by 70 votes. Media outlets have declared Scherer the winner, but with the caveat that the results could change when absentee ballots come in during the next two weeks. Winston Taylor, who is Scherer’s closest challenger, raised only $18,034. The other candidate, Springfield Ald. Sam Cahnman, raised $35,893. Morrison said that geography could have played a role in that race. The House's 96th District stretches across Springfield and Decatur. Taylor is from Decatur but currently lives in Springfield, so it would follow that he might have a base of support in both cities. Also, the fight between the other two candidates — which involved some very negative advertising — may have lead voters to seek out an alternative in Taylor.
Morrison emphasized that many factors besides money go into the results of elections. He said money is focused on in part because it is “easy to measure the money” but not as easy to measure other components, such as volunteers and organization. “It’s ultimately the votes that determine elections,” he said, and that can come down to “the message that [candidates] have and just the candidates themselves.”
Thursday, March 22, 2012
By Jamey Dunn
As lawmakers look to cut billions from the state’s Medicaid budget, one expert told them today that the task will be difficult and their options are limited.
Joy Johnson Wilson, health policy director for the National Conference of State Legislatures, addressed the Illinois Senate today about Medicaid trends across the country. She indicated that Gov. Pat Quinn’s demand that lawmakers find a way to curb Medicaid growth by $2.7 billion next fiscal year is an ambitious goal. She said she was not aware of another state that was trying to cut costs as much as Illinois, and that states that had successfully trimmed Medicaid expenses had done it through multi-year plans. “It is very hard to get savings in the Medicaid program in real time. It just is.”
Wilson emphasized that under the Affordable Care Act, states cannot make changes to who is eligible for Medicaid until 2014. At that time, residents above a certain earning level may be deferred to an online insurance exchange, where they could buy low cost insurance with the help of government subsidies. States can seek permission from the federal government to more rigorously check residents' eligibility status. After some delay, Illinois was granted permission to verify through state records whether applicants are residents. However, federal officials have not signed off on another piece of Medicaid reform passed in the state that would require applicants to provide multiple paychecks to prove their income level under eligibility requirements.
Wilson pointed out that the federal law leaves only a few areas to look for substantial savings. Lawmakers can reduce the rates paid to health care providers, limit how often patients can access some services, go after fraud and reduce services offered that are not required by the federal government.
“Optional programs in Medicaid are not like options on a car.” She said that options on a car are often considered luxury items, such as seat warmers or nice stereos, but they are not essential to making the car run. Wilson said many so-called optional Medicaid offerings, such as prescription drug coverage, are essential to the success of the program. She cautioned lawmakers to look at the “downstream financial, legal and political impacts” of cuts and reductions to services. “It’s very important that you make sure that you don’t make cuts that actually cost money,’ she said. Wilson said many states that eliminated adult dental services, something that is under consideration in Illinois, put the services back in place after they found that hospitalizations were going up. “So it actually cost them more when they eliminated them than what they were actually paying for them.”
She said some cuts can go too far and be met by public backlash. Arizona eliminated transplantation services but then put some back in place after a public outcry. “They have since restored some but not all of the transplantation services. She noted that Illinois is considering cuts to in-home services and said such reductions could run counter to Quinn’s stated desire to move people out of institutional settings whenever possible. She said such cuts might also put the state in violation of court agreements, known as consent decrees. “If you are going to do something on the institutional side, then you’ve got to make sure that there’s some support for home and community based services.”
Wilson indicated that Quinn’s plans to transition people with developmental disabilities and mental health issues from institutional care to community care could be a crucial factor in the state’s efforts to find savings. “The critical piece is the assessment piece. Who belongs in an institution and who doesn’t? If you get that wrong, you will lose money. So that’s critical,” she said. “Who can actually be taken care of and function in a community, and who needs institutional care?”
According to Wilson, states that were early adopters of HMO-style managed care systems saw savings of up to 20 percent, but she said Illinois would likely not see such savings from a managed care program now. Instead, the state might see upfront costs. “We’re not seeing that now. … I think that you’re not going to get those big savings up front. In fact, it may actually cost something to expand Medicaid [managed care] to get savings later on because you have to make sure that your [health care provider] networks are adequate and that you do all the education outreach activities that are necessary to get people in the system and teach them how to utilize managed care.” She also said that managed care programs in the state’s rural areas would likely face challenges, but as the trend grows, more providers have become familiar with managed care.
Wilson also warned that ferreting out fraud involves upfront costs, such as hiring investigators. She said that eliminating fraud would not produce the desired savings on its own.
Sen. Heather Steans, who is a member of the working group looking to find the cuts Quinn has called for, said she found Wilson's presentation ‘a little disheartening.” “There’s a lot of restriction being put on by the feds in terms of the flexibility the states have, so there’s only certain things we can really look at, and that makes it, I think, more challenging to achieve the kind of reductions in the short period of time in which we’re talking about.”
But she said the presentation reassured her that her group is looking at all possible options. “Everything she talked about we’re actually already looking at and considering here. So I do think we’re on the right track in terms of making sure we are looking across the breadth of things that are possible,” said Steans, a Chicago Democrat. She said the Medicaid working group is meeting weekly to work on a plan to reduce the state’s Medicaid liability.
For more on the legislature’s efforts to cut billions from Medicaid, see the upcoming April edition of Illinois Issues.
By Jamey Dunn
Almost a month after several high-profile faculty members called for his resignation, University of Illinois President Michael Hogan has decided to step aside.
The university announced today that Hogan will step down July 1, when Robert Easter, a long time University of Illinois employee and current interim vice chancellor for research on the Urbana-Champaign campus, is slated to take his place. A news release from the U of I said that after he resigns from the presidency, Hogan plans to continue working for the university as a tenured professor.
“It has been a distinct honor and privilege to serve as president of the University of Illinois,” Hogan said in a prepared statement. “While the university has faced some significant organizational and budgetary challenges over the past several years, we have initiated the reforms necessary to modernize and streamline our business functions and redirect the savings to academic purposes. The underpinnings of this great institution are sound." Hogan took the job at U of I in 2010 after then-President B. Joseph White resigned as part of the fallout from an admissions scandal. Before coming to Illinois, Hogan was president of the University of Connecticut.
The news of Hogan’s resignation comes after the U of I Board of Trustees received a letter in February signed by more than 125 of the university’s faculty members calling for Hogan to resign. Several endowed professors, a Nobel Prize winner and a Pulitzer Prize winner were among those who signed the letter. “We wish to state for the record that we have no confidence in Michael J. Hogan as president of this university. In our view he lacks the values, commitments, management style, ethics, and even manners, needed to lead this university, and his presidency should be ended at the earliest opportunity,” the letter said.
The faculty members said Hogan should step down because, among other issues, he used bullying tactics when dealing with university administrators and “exempted himself and those who immediately serve him from the financial discipline to which the rest of this University has been subject in times of frozen salaries and tight budgets.” Hogan was criticized by legislators and others for his more-than-$600,000 salary and additional perks that came with his job.
Hogan came under fire last January when his chief of staff, Lisa Troyer, resigned amid allegations that she posed as a member of the faculty Senate in emails that seemed intended to influence the group’s debate. She denied those allegations. The university later announced that Troyer would work as a faculty member in the Department of Psychology. Hogan has denied any involvement with the fraudulent emails, but the faculty letter chastised him for a “failure of ethical leadership” in the incident.
Christopher Kennedy, president of the University of Illinois Board of Trustees, said in a letter to U of I faculty and staff announcing Hogan’s resignation: “President Hogan joined the university at a very challenging time, when it had just weathered a long and very public controversy around admissions and enrollment practices, had major gaps in the administrative team, and was under such significant financial constraint that furloughs and salary freezes were required. Th board sought out a reform-minded leader and was glad to find Mike Hogan, a veteran and accomplished educational leader with a distinguished record, who was committed to carrying out an exhaustive mandate of change with a sense of necessary urgency." Kennedy touted some of Hogan’s accomplishments during his short time in the office, including budget cuts and efficiencies that Kennedy said resulted in $30 million in annually recurring savings. “It has not been easy. Some of what Mike Hogan was compelled to do was not popular, but he did what this University needed over the past 20 months, and we thank him for his hard work, perseverance and achievement.”
The Executive Committee of the Board of Trustees is scheduled to meet tomorrow to vote on the terms of Hogan’s resignation and to appoint Easter as president-designate. The full board is expected to vote on both actions during its May 31 meeting.
Easter has worked on the Urbana-Champaign campus for 36 years. He started there as a doctoral student. He was dean of the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Science for seven years and later served as interim provost for the campus and also served as interim chancellor. He was appointed to his current post as interim vice chancellor of research last October.
Kennedy said the board thought the next president should be “a proven administrator with a track record of collaboration and success within our university.” Easter said in a written statement that he plans to “move forward energetically and collaboratively with an agenda that reaffirms the University of Illinois’ special place among the very best of institutions of higher learning in the United States.
Wednesday, March 21, 2012
By Jamey Dunn
The Illinois House hit the ground running when it returned today after the state’s primary election. The chamber took votes on two controversial issues, with mixed results.
The House approved House Bill 3810, a measure banning scholarships handed out by legislators. The legislative scholarship program has been a target of ire for years after reports that some lawmakers gave the scholarships to the children of campaign contributors and political allies. Rep. Fred Crespo, a sponsor of the HB 3810, said before today’s vote was cast, “A no vote means that you’re enabling unethical behavior.”
Gov. Pat Quinn pushed for the elimination of the program with an amendatory veto last year. But the amended bill was not called for a vote. “I applaud the members of the House for voting to end the legislative scholarship program. As I have repeatedly advocated in the past, scholarships — paid for by Illinois taxpayers — should be awarded only to those with merit who are in true financial need,” Quinn said today in a written statement. “I urge the Senate to pass this legislation swiftly.” Quinn wants the money spent on legislative scholarships to go instead toward the need-based Monetary Assistance Program (MAP) grants. Administrators of the MAP grant program announced today that it has run out of money for the year, and any students who applied after March 14 will not receive assistance.
But many lawmakers argued that the legislative scholarships are a relatively low cost way to ensure that some form of financial aid goes to students in every legislative district in the state. The program costs universities about $13.5 million annually. “This is not a significant cost to the universities,” said Rep. Jim Sacia, who has local superintendents choose the students that receive waivers in his district. Some lawmakers use independent panels to award the scholarships to avoid the appearance of corruption. “What a shame that some of our colleagues have abused this system. This is one of the finest opportunities for young people out there. It gives kids the opportunity to go [to college] who don’t have the financial wherewithal,” said Sacia, a Pecatonica Republican.
Crespo, a Hoffman Estates Democrat, said that he thinks there is enough support for the bill to pass in the Senate.
The House voted down a measure that would allow citizens to make audio recordings of on-duty police officers. Rep. Elaine Nekritz, a sponsor of HB 3944, said that the measure was meant to “level the playing field” because police officers can record suspects — such as a recording made at a DUI stop — while taping a police officer is a felony that can carry a penalty of up to 15 years in prison. “It would allow a citizen to record a public officer performing public duties on public property,” the Northbrook Democrat said of her bill. Illinois' strict provision in its eavesdropping law applying to public officials has come under scrutiny lately as some high-profile cases have played out in the state’s courts. Several defendants arrested for recording police have said that they had no idea they were breaking the law until they found themselves facing felony charges.
Opponents to HB 3944 said that allowing citizens to record on-duty officers could interfere with police operations. Chicago Democratic Rep. Dena Carli, a sergeant in the Chicago Police Department, said: “These officers go out there on a daily basis. It’s not a level playing field when we go out there. We don’t know what we’re going to encounter, what we’re going to see, what we’re going to do, if we’re even going to come home.” Nekrtiz has said laws are already in place that would allow police to keep citizens from getting in the way of their work.
Rep. Roger Eddy, a Hutsonville Republican, voted against the bill, but he said he thinks the issue does need to be addressed. “I think something needs to be done, and I think often times addressing this type of a complicated issue in this body takes some time. I think the effort is there. I think maybe it needs a little more work to be soup.”
By Jamey Dunn
Yesterday’s primary saw low voter turnout and resulted in few surprises.
The new legislative map drawn by Democrats pitted several Republicans who currently hold seats in the General Assembly against each other. “It was essentially that the map was working the way that the Democrats designed to map to work,” said Kent Redfield, an emeritus professor of political science at the University of Illinois Springfield. He said the tactic of pushing incumbents to run against each other — either by mapping them out of their current districts or into districts with other Republicans under the new map — will allow Democrats to avoid facing incumbent Republicans in the general election. And looking ahead to next year, when the new General Assembly begins its session, the practice eliminates some incumbents who may have wielded political power in the legislature.
Races featuring current office holders involved negative campaigning, as candidates with similar records and views tried to differentiate themselves to a small pool of voters. “If there’s not any kind of policy difference, then it comes down to character issues, and those can be expressed negative or positively,” Redfield said. The State Board of Elections does not compile numbers for statewide turnout until a few weeks after the election, but media organizations across the state reported low turnout rates. The Associated Press reported that turnout was near 20 percent for many districts throughout Illinois. In some areas, this could mean record low turnouts. John Jackson, a visiting professor with the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University, said the low voter turnout favored well-established candidates with money, name recognition and the campaign infrastructure to get out the vote. “It leads to organizations and people with money getting their personal robocalls made.”
This played out in several Republican primaries. Sen. Carole Pankau from Itasca beat Rep. Randy Ramey from Carol Stream 58 percent to 42 percent in the primary race for the 23rd Senate district. Pankau has served in the General Assembly since 1993. She hit Ramey hard with negative ads about his recent DUI arrest.
Sen. Kirk Dillard defeated Rep. Chris Nybo 62 percent to 38 percent in the GOP primary race for the 24th Senate District. Nybo, who took his current seat in 2011, criticized Dillard for his long political career. But in the end, the senator — who worked for Gov. Jim Edgar, served in the Senate since 1993 and made a failed run for governor in 2010 — prevailed.
Redfield said the race for the 53rd Senate District was in some ways the exception to the trend. Rep. Jason Barickman from Onarga beat Sen. Shane Cultra, who is also from Onarga and has served in the General Assembly since 2003. Barickman was appointed to fill Cultra’s House seat when Cultra moved to the Senate in 2010. While the less-experienced candidate won in this case, the two do have similar stances on many issues.
Redfield said such races that sometimes got personal and very negative can lead to some hurt feelings within the party and could cause tensions for the rest of this year as lame ducks and candidates must work side by side. “In some cases, people feel like their turf is being invaded or that good form in politics is to wait your turn, and people are not waiting their turn,” he said. “That good form kind of goes out the window when you get into these circumstances because people feel that it’s down to survival.” He said many of the winners of hard-fought Republican primary battles can now breathe easily because they are sitting comfortably in districts that were drawn to produce Republican winners. Many do not have challengers in the general election, and Redfield said the few who do will probably not face a difficult race.
During redistricting, the party in power often draws very solid districts for the minority party because then there are fewer voters from the minority to deal with in the majority party’s districts. (Regional demographics play into the map making, as well, and sometimes an area just leans heavily one way or the other.) So especially in the first few elections after the map is drawn, there are many districts that are dominated by either Republican or Democratic voters.
According to a column from Charles N. Wheeler III for the current edition of Illinois Issues, 35 out of 59 Senate candidates do not face a challenger in the general election, and 81 out 118 House races only have on party’s candidate in the general election. Jackson said that he thinks most voters did not realize that so many of the races for the General Assembly and some congressional races were effectively decided in the primary. “I think they just weren’t paying attention,” he said “I doubt that was widely understood in the mass consciousness.”
Party power did not go as far as expected in at least one race on the Democratic side. Sue Scherer, a Decatur teacher backed by House Speaker Michael Madigan, won the House 96th District, but only by 70 votes. Redfield said that while Scherer won, her association with Madigan could hurt her in the general election in a downstate district. The 96th was drawn to give a Democratic candidate a chance, but Redfield said that the race could go either way. “Madigan got the person that he wanted, but the way the campaign turned out really does put her in a hole going forward.”
Jackson said that the low Democratic turnout can be attributed President Barack Obama not having a primary challenger, and the low Republican turnout may be indicative of many voters’ “lukewarm” feelings about Mitt Romney.
Perhaps the most controversial race in the state resulted in a win for a representative who was arrested on bribery charges last week. Rep. Derrick Smith, a Chicago Democrat, won the primary in the 10th House District. Democrats pushed for Smith’s election even after his arrest because they hope that he will step down, so they can replace him on the general election ballot. Smith’s opponent, Tom Swiss, is a former Republican who ran as a Democrat in the race. Smith won with 77 percent of the vote. “Obviously we lowered the bar a bit last night,” Redfield said. However, he said that most Democrats likely found Swiss “totally unacceptable” as a candidate and likely felt they were voting for Smith as a placeholder. “I think most people understand that Smith is not going to be around.”
The pressure for Smith to step down from his legislative position has already started. A group of House Republicans called for the creation of a House Special Investigative Committee to look into the charges against Smith. And his former employer and political supporter, Secretary of State Jesse White, has called for his resignation.
Tuesday, March 20, 2012
With every seat in the General Assembly up for grabs under a new legislative map, this should prove to be an exciting and interesting election year, and the primary is no exception. Several Republican incumbents are running against each other after being drawn together into the same district or mapped out of their current districts, and the fight over a district that spans Springfield and Decatur has brought one candidate’s personal life under scrutiny and raised questions about the tactics House Speaker Michael Madigan is willing to use to see his chosen candidate prevail.
Here are some races to watch:
- The District 23 Republican Senate primary pits Rep. Randy Ramey from Carol Stream against Sen. Carole Pankau from Itasca She has gone after Ramey for his recent DUI, while Ramey has criticized her for being a largely self-funded candidate and saying she has done little during her time in the Senate.
- The District 50 Republican Senate primary race includes Sen. Sam McCann from Carlinville. McCann has Tea Party backing and the support of popular national politicians such as U.S. Rep Aaron Schock. Challenger Gray Noll is backed by the local party operatives and outgoing Springfield Republican Sen. Larry Bomke.
- The District 24 Republican Senate Primary will see Sen. Kirk Dillard from Hindsdale against relative newcomer Rep. Chris Nybo from Elmhurst. Dillard is a veteran of Illinois politics who worked for Gov. Jim Edgar before coming to the Senate in 1993. Dillard lost to a close primary to Sen. Bill Brady in the 2010 race for the governor’s office. Nybo is touting the fact that he is a fresh face and trying to play off backlash against so-called career politicians.
- The District 96 Democratic House primary is a three-way race. Sue Scherer, a teacher from Decatur, is backed by Madigan. Sam Cahnman, a lawyer and Springfield alderman, is suing Madigan’s political action committees for fliers that highlight Cahnman’s alleged history of sexual misconduct, including charges of soliciting a prostitute. Cahnman was acquitted on the charges. The fliers paint him as threatening and potentially dangerous. Winston Taylor is also running for the Democratic slot on the ballot in the new district, which covers urban areas of Springfield and Decatur and was drawn as a potentially Democratic seat.
- The District 10 Democratic House race features a match up between a man many say is not a Democrat and a lawmaker who was arrested for bribery last week. Rep. Derrick Smith was arrested for allegedly taking a $7,000 bribe, but some Democrats are still urging those in their party to vote for him. That is because they say his opponent, Tom Swiss, is actually a Republican masquerading as a Democrat. Swiss denies this accusation, although the practice is not unheard of in the state. Democrats hope that if they can get Smith a primary win, they can push him to bow out and replace him with a candidate of the party’s choosing.
There are several compelling congressional races across the state as well. They include:
- In the 16th U.S. Congressional District Republican primary, U.S. Rep Adam Kinzinger is running against U.S. Rep. Donald Manzullo. Each is trying to undermine the other's conservative bona fides, and the race has turned to personal attacks on both sides, as well.
- In the 8th U.S. Congressional District Democratic primary, Tammy Duckworth, who worked for President Barack Obama in the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and was director of the Illinois Department of Veterans Affairs, is running against Raja Krishnamoorthi, who lost a bid for the state comptroller's office in 2010. The polls close at 7 p.m. tonight.
Chicago Tribune / WGN
The Chicago Sun-Times
The State-Journal Register's The Dome
The Daily Herald
Check back tomorrow for analysis on tonight's results.
By Jamey Dunn
A watchdog project took a comprehensive look at the potential for corruption in state government, and the results were somewhat unexpected.
The State Integrity Project spent months looking into several areas of state government in all 50 states. The investigation — a joint project between the Center fro Public Integrity, Global Integrity and Public Radio International — issued a report card and ranked the states this week on their potential for government corruption. And for once, Illinois was not at the bottom of the class.
No states received an “A” from the group and eight states earned a failing grade. Illinois, along with 18 other states, received a C. A passing grade is little surprising for a state that has seen its two previous governors sent to federal prison for corruption convictions. And New Jersey, the state with the highest grade, has also been associated with corruption in recent years. New Jersey and five other states received a “B.” California, which ranked with Illinois in the top three states for corruption convictions in a recent report from the University of Illinois Chicago and the University of Illinois’ Institute of Government and Public Affairs, also received a “B.”
Illinois scored well in the areas of internal auditing, public access to information and its procurement process. The state's procurement procedures and its public information laws were revamped in the wake of former Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s impeachment and removal from office.
The state earned "Ds" for civil service management and legislative accountability and its only "F" for its redistricting process. A push grew before the 2010 census to revamp the way the state draws its legislative districts every 10 years. But reform efforts fizzled, and lawmakers redrew the maps last year in the same highly partisan and relatively secretive way that they have for decades.
The study warns that changes made in Illinois may do little to address the breadth of the state’s legacy of corruption. “But in some ways, they are like nips and tucks — cosmetic facelifts that conceal a host of ethical loopholes. Despite wide knowledge of its crooked history, Illinois remains a state where lobbyists do not have to disclose their fees, where legislators cannot be sanctioned for conflicts of interest, and where the judges who make it on the bench are those with the best political connections,” wrote Amanda Vinicky, Statehouse bureau chief for WUIS Public Radio and an Illinois researcher on the project.
David Morrison, deputy director of the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform, said Illinois and other states with reputations for corruption likely got passing grades in the study because their legislatures have approved anticorruption laws in reaction to scandal. "If nobody killed anybody, you wouldn’t need laws to outlaw murder. But that doesn’t mean you are protected from being murdered," he said. Morrison said that the State Integrity Project is an important measure but that it only looked at certain aspects of what plays into state level corruption. He said that the culture is also important, and in that area and others, Illinois still has work to do.
James Nowlan, a senior fellow at the Institute of Government and Public Affairs, said that culture extends beyond politicians to the state’s citizens. “Many in the public tell their children that politics is a dirty business,” he said. Nowlan said the idea that corruption is just a way of life in Illinois can be used to justify it when it occurs. “I think Illinois needs to work on the cultural underpinnings that seem to tolerate corruption.”
Nowlan said that not just Illinoisans but people across the country might be surprised that Illinois ranked in the top 10 states in an investigation that weighs protection against corruption. When Illinois usually gets a high ranking in such a study, it is similar to the one it got in a recent poll Nowlan conducted. He said that Illinois was perceived as the third most corrupt state in a recent nationwide poll he did to gauge public opinion of corruption across the country. “Illinois sticks out like a sore thumb in the Midwest as perceived to be a corrupt state.” However, most of Illinois’ neighboring states that were perceived to be far less corrupt in Nowlan’s survey ranked equal to or lower than Illinois on the State integrity Project’s scale.
Editor's note: This is the first in a periodic series of articles by Illinois Issues on health care.
By Jamey Dunn
The fate of some of the the most integral components of federal heath care reform are in the hands of the United States Supreme Court, but many Americans are unaware of aspects of the law that are already in effect.
President Barack Obama signed the Affordable Care Act into law two years ago. Since 2010, provisions of the plan have rolled out across the country:
- Tax credits became available for small business and nonprofit organizations that contribute to the cots of their employee’s health insurance. According to the Chicago-based Campaign for Better Health Care, 159,900 Illinois businesses are eligible for the credit. A Pre-existing Condition Insurance Plan (PCIP) was created. According to the Obama administration, the plan is meant to serve as a “bridge” to 2014, when in insurance companies will no longer be able to deny coverage to adults because of a pre-existing condition. In 2011, almost 2,000 Illinoisans had enrolled in PCIP. Individuals must be uninsured for at least six months before they can qualify for coverage under the plan.
- Children can stay on their parents' insurance up to age 26 if they are unemployed or do not have access to insurance through their jobs. An Illinois law that went into effect in June 2009 allows unmarried dependents to remain on their parents plan until they turn 26. The federal law allows married residents under 26 to remain on their parents’ insurance as well. Under the state law, Illinois veterans qualify up to age 30.
- Children under 19 years old cannot be denied coverage due to a pre-existing condition. New insurance plans must cover some wellness and preventative procedures, such as cholesterol tests, without charging a copay or deductible. According to the campaign for Better Health Care, almost 2.4 million Illinoisans with private insurance received free preventative services as of 2011.
- Insurance plans that offer obstetrical or gynecological coverage must allow women to see any OB-GYN within the plan’s network of doctors without requiring a referral.
- Insurance companies are no longer allowed to rescind coverage unless fraud is committed. In the past, insurance companies had taken away coverage for basic mistakes made on forms and other minor errors, sometimes leaving chronically ill patients without coverage. According to the Illinois Department of Insurance, Illinois had the most rescissions per capita in the country prior to the new rule.
- Lifetime caps on medical coverage costs where eliminated. Annual caps will be phased out in 2014. Caps can lead to patients with serious illnesses, such as multiple sclerosis or cancer, paying for costly treatments out of pocket or missing out on care. An appeals process must be in place for patients seeking to contest claims denied by insurance companies.
- Medicare Part D patients who reach the so called doughnut hole, a point in coverage where they must purchase their prescription medicines out of pocket, get a 50 percent discount on Medicare Part D covered brand-name prescription drugs. Medicare is a federal program that provides health care services to people over 65. The affordable Care Act seeks to close the doughnut hole by 2020. In Illinois, more than 144,000 people received the discount last year. The average savings was $667 per person, and Illinois had a total savings of $96,216,548 according to the Campaign for Better Health Care.
- Medicare patients receive free preventative services, such as cancer screenings. More than 1.3 million Medicare patients in Illinois received such services in 2011.
- Large employers’ group plans must spend 85 percent of the premiums they collect on health care services or improving health care quality. Plans for individuals and smaller employers must spend 80 percent of premiums on care. Companies that fail to meet these thresholds because their overhead costs or profits are too large will be required to give a rebate to customers.
- The Community Care Transitions Program was created to help high-risk Medicare patients access care after a recent hospitalization. The program is intended to keep such patients from needing to be readmitted because of a back slide in health due to a lack of care once they head home.
- The Department of Health and Human Services is required to collect, analyze and report on demographic data in an effort to address health care disparities across racial, ethnic and socio-economic divides.
Despite all these and other provisions, the bulk of the plan goes into effect in 2014. Health care advocates in Illinois estimate that 20 percent to 40 percent of Americans are unaware that any of the Affordable Care Act has been implemented so far.
Some of the most controversial pieces are facing a constitutional challenge. The mandate that after 2014, most Americans must purchase health insurance or face a financial penalty collected by the Internal Revenue Service is the focus of most of the legal challenges. Under the mandate, those who cannot afford insurance would receive subsidies to purchase it or be put on Medicaid, a joint state and federal program that provides health care to the poor.
The mandate is meant to keep people from gaming the other changes to the rules. If insurance companies cannot turn away people with pre-existing conditions, people could wait until they got sick to get insurance. If there were no healthy people in the pool of the insured to balance the costs of caring for the sick, premiums would skyrocket. The theory goes that if everyone buys insurance, the cost of insuring those with chronic illness would be paid for with the premiums of those who are relatively well and who are not seeking much health care. In turn, the healthy insured would have coverage when the time came that they might need it. The Obama administration argues that the requirement falls under the government’s power to regulate commerce and levy taxes.
But 26 states and sued over the mandate, and new requirements that would be put on states. The U.S. Supreme Court will decide whether the mandate goes too far, punishing Americans for failing to purchase a product. The court will also decide if Congress overstepped its power by requiring states to accept new Medicaid provisions and a vast expansion to remain in the program. If the court strikes down any one part of the law, it must determine whether the other pieces would stand alone. The U.S. Supreme Court is scheduled to hear arguments on the case beginning on March 26. The court has planned for six hours of hearings over three days. A ruling is expected this summer.
As the court weighs the issue, many states are dragging their feet on implementing other pieces of the reform. States are reluctant to create health insurance exchanges, online marketplaces where customers can comparison shop for insurance, until the court has ruled.
Mayra Alvarez, director of Public Health Policy in the Office of Health Reform at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, said that states need to have exchanges in place by the fall of 2013 to meet requirement that they go online January 1, 2014. She said new rules the administration issued this month would allow states great flexibility in creating their exchanges and the option to partner with the federal government to run a hybrid exchange. States who are not ready by the deadline could use such a plan until they have their own exchanges up and running. Residents in states that do not create their own exchange would be able to access a federal exchange. “A federally facilitated exchange will be up and running in 2014,” she said. “The state may run a component, and the federal government may run a component.”
Illinois has received $6.2 million in federal grants for planning and implementation of its exchange. The state has begun the process, but advocates do not expect lawmakers to vote on the core aspects of the exchange until after the primary election at the earliest, or next fall, after the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled, at the latest.
Monday, March 19, 2012
|Ann and Mitt Romney with Springfield Mayor Mike Houston (background) at a local diner.|
By Jamey Dunn
Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney stopped in the state capital this morning as part of his push to gain support in Illinois before tomorrow’s primary.
Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts, focused on the economy and energy policy as he addressed the crowd at Springfield's Charlie Parker’s Diner. “People across this country are wondering what they’re going to do with these gasoline prices,” Romney said. “ A lot of moms wonder: Can they take their kids from event to event and to school and to soccer practice? People are hurting in this country with gasoline prices the way they are.”
He said the increasing gas prices have been “caused to a degree” by President Barack Obama’s energy policy decisions. However, as Republicans have made gas prices a predominant issue in the primary, some have argued that the spiking price at the pump has less to do with energy policy and more to do with speculators gambling on the market or international crises.
Romney’s nod to mothers seems to be a part of his efforts to connect with female voters in the state. His wife has been regularly taking the podium at campaign events, voicing her concerns about the nation’s deficit and the legacy that will be left to her children and grandchildren. “I am hearing this from women everywhere. They are concerned about the economy. I love it that women are talking to me about the economy and about deficits,” Ann Romney said today.
The Romneys' message resonated with some of the women who came out to see him this morning. “I like his ideas. I want somebody that’s going to cut spending, but my main interest is energy independence. I send emails all the time to congressmen. I send them to Romney all the time,” said Diane Munkirs, a retiree from Rochester.
“I read his book — parts of it — and I really liked his emphasis on family,”said Munkirs, who described herself as a political news “junkie.” “People fuss about him not being as conservative, it seems, as other [candidates]. But yet, as a Mormon — that’s a conservative religion. As a businessman, you have to be conservative with money. He has five boys. I think they’re probably a pretty conservative family. I just think he’s a great candidate. I really do." She said she is urging Republicans and Tea Party members she knows to back Romney so the party can line up behind him and he can build a war chest that will rival Obama’s successful fundraising totals. “We should all get behind Romney, and let’s get going and have a candidate to support.”
Illinois politicians came out to support Romney, touting him as the candidate who can defeat Obama. U.S. Rep. Aaron Schock said, “As Illinoisans, we know better than anyone what Barack Obama and his team are all about.” At the mention of the president, who began his political career in Springfield, a few audience members responded with groans. “Of all the candidates in this race, in the Republican primary, there is only one candidate who has put together the organization in every state, who has raised the resources that can go to go toe to toe with Barack Obama and who has the track record of being able to withstand the inferno of attack ads and win on election day, and that is Gov. Mitt Romney.”
But at least one Obama supporter was in the crowd today. “I think that it’s important to see issues from both sides of the aisle,” said Kerry Hansen, a Springfield resident who said she turned 21 today. “He was a good speaker. He was very nice. I got a picture with him. It’s my birthday, so I pulled the birthday card.” Picture aside, Hansen said she does not plan to vote for Romney because she doesn’t support his views on social issues such as same-sex marriage. She also said she agrees with the national mandate that insurance provide birth control for women, something Romney has opposed on the grounds that it would force religious employers to go against their beliefs. “I do think gay marriage should be legalized. I think abortion should be made safe. I think birth control should be free under health care,” Hansen said.
Romney made no mention of his Republican opponents by name, but he did hint at them not having the experience he says is needed to pull the country out of its slump. “I’m someone experienced in the economy. I’m not an economic lightweight. We’re not going to be successful in replacing an economic lightweight with another economic lightweight. We’re going to have to replace him with someone who knows how to run this economy.”
Former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum, Romney’s closest opponent, is also travelling the state looking for support. He hit back at recent events, calling Romney a “Wall Street financier” who was unable to create jobs in his stint as governor. Former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich and U.S. Rep. Ron Paul trail behind but have yet to exit the race. They latter two have made appearances in the state but are not putting on the kind of 11th-hour campaign blitz that Santorum and Romney are in Illinois.
Illinois has 54 delegates up for grabs in tomorrow’s election. Fifteen other Illinois delegates will head to the Republican convention in June not tied to any candidate. Santorum failed to meet the filing requirements in four of the state’s 18 congressional districts, so voters in those districts will not be able to choose delegates to back him for the nomination. This means Santorum cannot compete for 10 of the state’s delegates. A candidate must get 1,144 delegates nationwide to win the Republican nomination. Heading into tomorrow's primary, Romney has 521, Santorum has 253, Gingrich has 136 and Paul has 50. Recent data from Public Policy Polling gives Romney a comfortable 15-point lead in the Illinois primary tomorrow.
For an interesting look at what Illinois Republican officeholders past and present think of Romney and the race for the Republican nomination, see Politico.