Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Illinois buzz

U.S. Sen. Barack Obama may use Springfield as a backdrop to announce whether he’ll run for president in 2008, according to state Rep. John Fritchey, a Chicago Democrat. Fritchey posted a blog that said he was on the conference call with Obama and reported he could make the announcement in Springfield February 10. We’ll confirm that as soon as possible.

Obama announced Tuesday that he filed papers to form a presidential exploratory committee. His second to last sentence reads, “And on February 10th, at the end of these decisions and in my home state of Illinois, I’ll share my plans with my friends, neighbors and fellow Americans.”

Hospital money
Another topic — federal funds for Illinois hospitals — has Illinois lawmakers saying the state is in better shape today than it was before. The federal government approved a program that will bring $1.8 billion in federal matching funds to Illinois health care over the next three years.

But the money won’t be distributed to hospitals throughout Illinois until the Illinois legislature approves a measure that gives the Department of Healthcare and Family Services the ability to distribute the money.

The money comes in the form of federal matching funds for a hospital tax enacted by Gov. Rod Blagojevich in July 2005. The so-called hospital assessment program didn’t receive federal approval until last fall.

“Our financial situation has improved dramatically with the recent good news from Washington,” says state Sen. Jeff Schoenberg, the Evanston Democrat who sponsored the legislation creating the assessment program. “Certainly a great deal of credit goes to former [U.S. House] Speaker [J. Dennis] Hastert for making sure we receive federal approval in one of his last acts as house speaker in Washington.” Rep. Barbara Flynn Currie, a Chicago Democrat, sponsored the measure in the House.

Hospitals could expect to receive the money in the next few months, according to Director of Healthcare and Family Services Barry Maram, who spoke Tuesday at press conference at St. John’s Hospital in Springfield.

The appropriation needed from the Illinois legislature was recently tied to a controversial measure that would allow the state to give pay raises to lawmakers, judges and department heads. The Senate approved the measure. The House gutted it because Speaker Michael Madigan says he does not think the state should approve any spending that is not necessary right now.

When the money is released, hospitals around the state will be able to spend it on necessary medical equipment, recruitment of doctors or anything that helps the hospital serve Medicaid patients, Maram says.

Ed McDowall, spokesman for Memorial Medical Center in Springfield, says, “The assessment will significantly reduce that gap between the cost of care and the value of the Medicaid reimbursements.” Medicaid reimbursements pay for about 75 percent of the cost of providing care Medicaid patients.

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