Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Health care scare

By Hilary Russell
State employees who want to decide which doctor they see or what hospital they are admitted to may have to re-think their health care options.

According to the legislative Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability, state employees collectively would be on the hook for $200 million more for their health insurance plans. The commission met with medical providers today to determine whether existing contracts should be renewed for next fiscal year, which starts July 1.

Gov. Pat Quinn’s administration is seeking a health insurance policy that would charge state employees more in monthly premiums if they chose more flexible plans, as opposed to a managed care policy. For example, employees enrolled in the most flexible plans currently pay about $90 a month. Under the administration’s proposal, that premium would increase to nearly $310.

Retirees also would pay more, under Quinn’s proposed operating budget. If approved by the General Assembly, retirees who are not enrolled in Medicare would see the biggest increase. They currently pay about $13 a month for state health benefits. That would increase to about $583 a month.

“That’s a big change,” said Rep. Frank Mautino, a Spring Valley Democrat. “It’s a change from $13 a month, which is unrealistic, to $7,000 a year. People have worked under that and retired under the premise that the state would pay the predominant share of their insurance. Now the governor’s budget assumes that they will pick up about one third of the cost, and that will come as a big surprise.”

The increase in premiums is, in part, an effort to encourage employees to sign up for less expensive managed care plans. The flexible plans allow patients to see any doctor they prefer, while managed care plans limit patients to see doctors on a pre-approved list.

Rep. Elaine Nekritz, a Northbrook Democrat, said that with the increase comes the question of how to pay for it. “What one doesn’t pick up, the other has to. It’s not going to be easy to tell employees that their premiums just increased 5,000 percent. On the other hand, can we come up with another $200 million? Where does it come from? I don’t know. Ultimately, those are the questions we have to work through in the next six weeks.”

Collectively, the projection for Illinois’ State Employees’ Group Health Insurance Liability tops out at $2.1 billion for the next fiscal year, compared with $1.9 billion last year, according to the Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability.

Hospital board chair steps down
By Jamey Dunn
Dr. Quentin Young withdrew himself today from consideration as the new chair of the Illinois Health Facilities Planning Board because of a possible conflict of interest.

Last Friday, Gov. Pat Quinn named Young, a health care advocate who previously served as Quinn’s physician, to head the board.

According to a statement from Quinn, Young withdrew his name when he realized that his former practice owns part of a property that rents space to a health care provider. Young still has a stake in the practice, and Illinois law bars the head of the hospital planning board from having financial ties to any institution licensed under the state’s hospital licensing act.

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