WBEZ | health insurance http://www.wbez.org/tags/health-insurance Latest from WBEZ Chicago Public Radio en Health care tax rules trip up some immigrants http://www.wbez.org/news/health-care-tax-rules-trip-some-immigrants-111785 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//main-images/Immigrant-Obamacare.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>The deadline&rsquo;s coming to file tax returns, and aside from the usual headache, this year it&rsquo;s proving particularly thorny for undocumented immigrants. That&rsquo;s because, for the first time, there are penalties under the Affordable Care Act for those lacking health insurance.</p><p>But the law is complex, and when it comes to people living in the U.S. illegally, many are getting slapped with fines they shouldn&rsquo;t have to pay.</p><p>Adalberto Martinez, a mechanic at an auto body shop in Chicago, is one of them. Like many undocumented immigrants, Martinez pays income taxes, using an IRS-issued taxpayer identification number, called an ITIN. But this year, he noticed something different when he sat down with his tax preparer.</p><p>&ldquo;They told me that there&rsquo;s a box where you have to answer whether you have insurance or not,&rdquo; he explained in Spanish. &ldquo;So she put down that I didn&rsquo;t have insurance. She didn&rsquo;t explain to me exactly why, just that there was a box there and I didn&rsquo;t have insurance.&rdquo;</p><p>Afterwards, Martinez found he was hit with a $200 fine for not having health coverage in 2014. The official name for the penalty was the &ldquo;shared responsibility payment.&rdquo;</p><p>Most lawful U.S. residents are required to have health coverage under Obamacare, and those who don&rsquo;t will have to pay the penalty. But under the law, undocumented U.S. residents, like Martinez, are exempt from all that. But Martinez&rsquo;s story is not unique.</p><p>&ldquo;We&rsquo;ve heard from at least 10 to 15 organizations that have been hearing this issue in the community,&rdquo; said Luvia Quinones, health policy director at the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights.</p><p>Quinones said it&rsquo;s not clear how many undocumented immigrants may have improperly paid the fine, but she said thousands in Illinois could be at risk.</p><p>&ldquo;We know that in the state of Illinois, there&rsquo;s about 310,000 undocumented, uninsured individuals in addition to about 70-80 thousand DACA youth that are eligible also to get their work permit,&rdquo; she said.</p><p>DACA youth, also known as DREAMers, are immigrants that arrived in the U.S. as children and obtained temporary relief from deportation under President Obama&rsquo;s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. They have valid Social Security numbers, which could be used to file tax returns. This puts them at particular risk for mistaken penalties, because while their Social Security numbers may suggest that they are lawful U.S. residents, and therefore subject to the health care penalty, Obamacare explicitly excludes them from the health coverage requirement.</p><p>Quinones said in some cases, she believes immigrants are being entrapped in fraudulent schemes by unscrupulous tax preparers who are pocketing the penalties themselves. An advisory from the IRS indicates that the federal agency is aware and concerned about these reports as well.</p><p>But often, Quinones said, these instances are mistakes, where tax preparers are unclear about the new law.</p><p>That&rsquo;s what Graciela Guzman found when she was forced to tackle the issue. As a health care navigator at Primecare Community Health, a bilingual clinic in the city&rsquo;s Wicker Park neighborhood, she helps people enroll in health insurance plans.</p><p>Technically, Guzman&rsquo;s job has nothing to do with taxes, but recently patients whom she&rsquo;d told were ineligible for health coverage under Obamacare started showing up at her clinic. They&rsquo;d prepared their tax returns, and they were mad at her.</p><p>&ldquo;Like, &lsquo;you told me I was not going to get penalized,&rsquo;&rdquo; Guzman recalled them saying. &ldquo;Like, &lsquo;you educated us and you said we are not going to get penalized, and we got penalized. Why?&rsquo;&rdquo;</p><p>Guzman realized lots of tax preparers were making mistakes, so she and her colleagues decided to educate them.</p><p>On a recent weekday afternoon, she canvassed Fullerton Avenue in the Belmont-Cragin neighborhood on foot, carrying a bag of informational flyers.</p><p>&ldquo;We&rsquo;ll hit a new corridor every two or three days,&rdquo; she said. &ldquo;We&rsquo;ll probably hit 10 to 15 income tax places per corridor, so we&rsquo;ve probably hit about 120 income tax places.&rdquo;</p><p>Guzman pops into tax preparers&rsquo; offices, as well as check cashing sites, speaking briefly in Spanish to explain her purpose, and to leave a stack of papers. The sheets detail, in English and in Spanish, how undocumented immigrants should claim an exemption from the penalty.</p><p>Guzman said the penalty can be a hardship for many people at her clinic. It&rsquo;s at least $95 per adult who&rsquo;s not insured. But in most cases it&rsquo;s a lot more, depending on the family&rsquo;s income.</p><p>&ldquo;A penalty of $300-$400, it can absorb half if not more of what they would have gotten back in refund,&rdquo; she said.</p><p>So why has it been so hard to get it right? One reason is that none of the information you provide on your tax return is an absolute indicator of your residency status. Not everyone who files taxes using an ITIN is undocumented; conversely, not everyone with a Social Security number is a lawful U.S. resident.</p><p>There are different opinions on how tax preparers should handle this.</p><p>&ldquo;If they are using services of a tax preparer, they should tell preparer directly that immigration status is that of someone not in the U.S. legally,&rdquo; said Enrique Lopez, a CPA in Chicago. In fact, Lopez said that his office will refuse to file a tax return for a client who does not disclose his or her residency status.</p><p>But others worry that this might backfire.</p><p>&ldquo;I think not only is it going to create more fear in the community, but it could also affect the likelihood of undocumented individuals or DACA youth wanting to file taxes,&rdquo; said Quinones.</p><p>Instead, Quinones recommended that tax preparers keep things general. Instead of asking whether a client is undocumented, he or she could ask if the client qualifies for any of a number of exemptions that fall under the same <a href="http://www.irs.gov/instructions/i8965/ch02.html#d0e1463">code</a>. That way, someone who&rsquo;s undocumented can indicate that they are exempt without disclosing the specific reason why.</p><p>As for Martinez, he was able to go back to his tax preparer and file a tax return amendment. He hopes he&rsquo;ll get his $200 back. In the meantime, he said he&rsquo;s doing a little outreach himself.</p><p>&ldquo;I started telling people,&rdquo; he said, through a translator. &ldquo;My cousin in Indianapolis, he came to Chicago, and he told me they charged him $300. I told him, &lsquo;Hey cousin, you need to find out what happened &lsquo;cause they shouldn&rsquo;t have charged you.&rsquo;&rdquo;</p><p>Meanwhile, immigrant advocates and others are warning the public that anyone who pays the penalty directly to a tax preparer, by cash or otherwise, may be a victim of fraud. The IRS recommends filing a <a href="http://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/f14157.pdf">form </a>to report the activity. Consumers may also file a complaint with the &nbsp;<a href="http://illinoisattorneygeneral.gov.">Illinois Attorney General</a>.</p><p>In cases where someone has improperly paid the penalty to the IRS, they can file a tax amendment to get the money back. Get Covered Illinois advises anyone with questions about the health care requirement or the tax penalty to call its hotline at 866-311-1199.</p><p><em>Ivan Favelevic and Aurora Aguilar assisted with language translation for this story.</em></p><p><em>Odette Yousef is WBEZ&#39;s North Side bureau reporter. Follow her </em><a href="https://twitter.com/oyousef"><em>@oyousef</em></a><em> and </em><a href="https://twitter.com/wbezoutloud"><em>@WBEZoutloud</em></a><em>.</em></p></p> Mon, 30 Mar 2015 09:49:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/health-care-tax-rules-trip-some-immigrants-111785 Immigrants face barriers on health care site http://www.wbez.org/news/immigrants-face-barriers-health-care-site-109698 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//main-images/ACA immigrants_web.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>More than two months after the Obama administration declared <a href="https://www.healthcare.gov/">healthcare.gov</a> working &ldquo;smoothly for the vast majority of users,&rdquo; immigrants who try to sign up are still encountering serious glitches.</p><p>On Wednesday, federal officials <a href="http://www.hhs.gov/news/press/2014pres/02/20140212a.html">trumpeted</a> the fact that more than 1 million people signed up for private insurance in January, with Illinois accounting for nearly 89,000 of those enrollees. With fewer than 40 days until the deadline to enroll without incurring a penalty, much of the attention has turned to so-called &ldquo;young invincibles,&rdquo; a term for young, healthy people who will likely have lower health care costs.</p><p>There&rsquo;s no similar focus on immigrants, WBEZ has found, who continue to face significant hurdles with identity and citizenship verification, and faulty determinations of eligibility for Medicaid. In Illinois, the task of finding and navigating around those barriers often falls to scrappy enrollment specialists who work directly with those clients at community health centers. On top of their jobs, they are finding themselves tasked with bringing the glitches to the attention to state and federal authorities, and lobbying for them to be fixes.</p><p>Illinois, which is one of seven states to engage in a state-federal partnership, relies on the federal site to handle the enrollment function for plans offered on the state&rsquo;s insurance marketplace. Under the Affordable Care Act, immigrants are required to have insurance if they reside lawfully in the U.S. &ndash; even if they are not citizens.</p><p>&ldquo;Since November I have frequently made visits, and every time I made a visit I&rsquo;ve stayed at least 3-4 hours,&rdquo; said Zejna Belko, a 51-year old Bosnian immigrant who described her attempt to enroll in the healthcare exchange with the help of enrollment counselors at the Hamdard Center on Chicago&rsquo;s far North Side. &ldquo;We&rsquo;ve also had individuals from other agencies try to help us out.&rdquo;</p><p>Belko, who&rsquo;s lived in the U.S. with a green card for 16 years, said she&rsquo;s spent up to 30 hours working with enrollment specialists. Still, they haven&rsquo;t even been able to start her application because the system cannot verify her identity. So far, Belko has twice mailed identifying documents, such as copies of her green card and social security card, to the Department of Health and Human Services, to no avail.</p><p>&ldquo;My blood pressure rises,&rdquo; she said through a translator. &ldquo;I get very frustrated and angry because I&rsquo;m an honest person and I&rsquo;m not hiding anything, and I don&rsquo;t understand what the problem is. I just want to get health care coverage.&rdquo;</p><p>In a small health center in Wicker Park, Graciela Guzman said she sees these cases all the time. Most frequently, the issues with identity verification is done via checking an applicant&rsquo;s credit history &ndash; something Guzman said many newer immigrants don&rsquo;t yet have.</p><p>&ldquo;They haven&rsquo;t been here long enough to be considered &lsquo;bankable,&rsquo;&rdquo; she said. &ldquo;Like a lot of them have been paid by cash. Maybe they don&rsquo;t have banks. Maybe they don&rsquo;t own property. So the system has a harder time just finding them.&rdquo;</p><p><strong>The Morning Shift: How an ACA enrollment specialist is helping immigrants in Chicago</strong></p><p><iframe frameborder="no" height="166" scrolling="no" src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=https%3A//api.soundcloud.com/tracks/134626873&amp;color=ff5500&amp;auto_play=false&amp;hide_related=false&amp;show_artwork=true" width="100%"></iframe></p><p>Guzman works with a team of five enrollment specialists at <a href="http://www.primecarechi.org/">PrimeCare Community Health</a>, a small clinic based in St. Elizabeth&rsquo;s Hospital in Chicago&rsquo;s Wicker Park neighborhood. About half of their clients are immigrants. Her team encounters hurdles to enrollment so frequently, they&rsquo;ve managed to cobble together a complicated flow sheet of workarounds. For identity verification problems, they&rsquo;ve found that calling the federal Health Insurance Marketplace Call Center, and later uploading or mailing a client&rsquo;s identification documents, usually helps to get an application started</p><p>But there are other barriers. Through trial and error, they found success in ignoring the site&rsquo;s directions to fill out information completely, and instead repeatedly clicking &ldquo;continue and save&rdquo; when they get an error on citizenship verification. The most significant challenge, however, appears not to have a workaround.</p><p>&ldquo;Most of our clients receive incorrect eligibility determinations, that tell them that they&rsquo;re eligible for Medicaid,&rdquo; said Guzman.</p><p>This is the case for lawful permanent residents whose incomes would qualify for Medicaid, but who are barred from enrolling in that program because they&rsquo;ve lived in the U.S. less than five years. Once the site directs an enrollee to apply for Medicaid, it does not allow them back onto the private healthcare exchange, where these clients should be.</p><p>&ldquo;We have brought this to the attention of our federal counterparts,&rdquo; said a state spokesman, &ldquo;and we believe they have been working to address it by adding new questions to <a href="https://www.healthcare.gov/">healthcare.gov</a> late last week that will allow people to get through to the Marketplace once they have been issued a denial.&rdquo;</p><p>In other words, immigrants are advised to apply for Medicaid even when they know they are ineligible for it, just to receive a denial. But since Medicaid eligibility was expanded under the Affordable Care Act, a backlog in applications has led to significantly longer processing times.&nbsp;</p><p>Guzman and her team of so-called &ldquo;navigators&rdquo; say, as they discover glitches, they&rsquo;ve relayed them to state and federal officials. So far, they have enrolled more than 600 immigrants to the healthcare exchange. In addition to the discoveries they&rsquo;ve made about getting through the technical difficulties, the team is also working out ways to handle the unexpected emotional impact of the job.</p><p>&ldquo;On our days off, we&rsquo;re constantly thinking about patients, which is like ludicrous,&rdquo; said Martin Jurado, who works with Guzman at PrimeCare. &ldquo;I don&rsquo;t think anybody else does that. You know? Somebody that you&rsquo;ve barely met, you barely know, yet you know everything about their life, what they&rsquo;re going through, and you&rsquo;re carrying that, and a lot of people didn&rsquo;t tell you that, starting off the bat.&rdquo;</p><p>Guzman found that <a href="http://guzmangraciela.wordpress.com/">blogging </a>helps her process their experiences. She writes of frustrations with the healthcare exchange website, but also about clients that stick in her head.</p><p>&ldquo;People really weren&rsquo;t hearing the complexity of the website, they weren&rsquo;t hearing people&rsquo;s fears and difficulties in getting through the website,&rdquo; she said. &ldquo;And so we wanted to share some of what&rsquo;s going on.&rdquo;</p><p>Together, she said, they have come to realize they are witnessing a moment: droves of people are coming out of the shadows because the law requires them to &ndash; and they&rsquo;re coming with needs that extend far beyond just health care.</p><p>&ldquo;We get them comfortable and primed, hopefully, for enrollment,&rdquo; she said, &ldquo;but then they&rsquo;ll turn around and kind of like almost offhandedly be like, &lsquo;so you helped me with this, can you help me with housing? Can you help me with food stamps? I have some domestic stuff going on, where do I go?&rsquo;&rdquo;</p><p>Guzman said she believes they&rsquo;re on the frontier of a new phase. She, Jurado, and the rest of their team will stick around after the crush of enrollment ends March 31st, helping people change or update their health plans. But she said they&rsquo;ll also continue to serve as access points to community resources when immigrants don&rsquo;t know where to go.</p><p><em>Odette Yousef is WBEZ&rsquo;s North Side Bureau reporter. Follow her <a href="https://twitter.com/oyousef" style="text-decoration:none;">@oyousef</a> and <a href="https://twitter.com/WBEZoutloud" style="text-decoration:none;">@WBEZoutloud</a></em></p></p> Thu, 13 Feb 2014 12:29:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/news/immigrants-face-barriers-health-care-site-109698 Limbo on Illinois health marketplace disappoints consumer and business advocates http://www.wbez.org/news/limbo-illinois-health-marketplace-disappoints-consumer-and-business-advocates-107582 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//main-images/health market_060613_lw.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>Illinois&rsquo; new health insurance marketplace will be run jointly with the federal government for the foreseeable future, which has disappointed consumer advocates.</p><p>The marketplace, also known as the insurance exchange, is where people without health insurance will go to shop under the Affordable Care Act or Obamacare. States had the option to pass legislation establishing state-run marketplaces, or leave it to the feds.</p><p>Several such bills made their way through the Illinois General Assembly without passing by the end of the legislative session in May. As it stands, Illinois&rsquo; marketplace will be jointly run with the federal government for the foreseeable future.</p><p>&ldquo;We&rsquo;re not gonna have the ability to really have any oversight of the federal exchange,&rdquo; said Jim Duffett, Executive Director of the Illinois Campaign for Better Healthcare. He says the bill would have established a regulatory board representing a broad swath of consumer interests including small businesses, communities of color and people with disabilities, calling the proposed body &ldquo;a very broad-based independent pro-consumer board.&rdquo; It would also have given the state the ability to regulate rates.</p><p>The bill, HB 3227, was passed in the Illinois state senate, but never came to a vote in the house. While it could still progress in the fall legislative veto session, the current limbo means the exchange will be run jointly with the federal government in 2014 based on previous legislation. The future of the exchange in 2015 remains unclear.</p><p>Healthcare and small business advocates had also hoped for a bill to pass this year.</p><p>Danny Chun, spokesperson for the Illinois Hospital Association (IHA), says hospitals supported HB 3227 because they, too, would have had representation on the regulatory board. And IHA supports requiring the insurance industry to cover the costs of managing the marketplace, another provision of the stymied bill. But he said he was not too worried.</p><p>&ldquo;The marketplace is happening,&rdquo; Chun said. &ldquo;Just because they didn&rsquo;t pass it in the spring session doesn&rsquo;t mean the issue isn&rsquo;t going to be called again.&rdquo;</p><p>The Illinois Chamber of Commerce supported a different version of the bill, but had hoped another version would pass this session -- one without the same requirements for insurance companies to fund the exchange.</p><p>&ldquo;Ultimately what ended up passing the Senate we were neutral on,&rdquo; said Laura Minzer, head of the healthcare council for the ICC. &ldquo;But it reflected a lot of the provisions and the principles we wanted to see captured.&rdquo;</p><p>Other key legislation did pass the Illinois General Assembly, including a bill to expand Medicaid in Illinois to low-income adults and a bill to establish licensed Illinois Insurance Navigators. Navigators will help consumers make their way in the new marketplace.</p><p>Beginning January 1, 2014, all Americans will be required to get health insurance or pay a fine. At least 17 states have already opted to create their own insurance exchanges, while 26 states will likely leave it to the federal government. Illinois is among the seven that are currently planning a jointly-run exchange. The federal marketplace, including the one in Illinois, is set to open October 1.</p><p><em>Lewis Wallace is a WBEZ Pritzker Journalism Fellow. Follow him <a href="http://twitter.com/lewispants" target="_blank">@lewispants</a>.</em></p></p> Fri, 07 Jun 2013 07:55:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/limbo-illinois-health-marketplace-disappoints-consumer-and-business-advocates-107582 Supreme Court will hear arguments over Obama health care plan http://www.wbez.org/story/supreme-court-will-hear-arguments-over-obama-health-care-plan-94022 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//story/photo/2011-November/2011-11-14/RS3620_Doctors with Patient_Getty_David McNew.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>WASHINGTON (AP) — The Supreme&nbsp;Court said Monday it will hear arguments next March over President Barack Obama's health&nbsp;care overhaul — a case that could shake the political landscape just as voters are deciding if Obama deserves another term.</p><p>The decision to hear arguments in the spring allows plenty of time for a decision in late June, just over four months before Election Day. This sets up an election-year showdown over the White House's main domestic policy achievement.</p><p>The justices announced they will hear more than five hours of arguments, an extraordinarily long session, from lawyers on the constitutionality of a provision at the heart of the law and other related questions about the act. The central provision in question is the requirement that individuals buy health insurance starting in 2014 or pay a penalty.</p><p>The last time the court allotted anywhere near this much time for arguments was in 2003, for the consideration of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform. That case consumed four hours of argument.</p><p>The 2010 health&nbsp;care overhaul law aims to extend insurance coverage to more than 30 million Americans, through an expansion of Medicaid, the requirement that individuals buy health insurance starting in 2014 or pay a penalty and other measures.</p><p>A White House spokesman said, "We are pleased that the court has agreed to hear this case."</p><p>"We know the Affordable Care Act is constitutional and are confident the Supreme&nbsp;Court will agree," communications direct Dan Pfeiffer said in a statement.</p><p>Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky called the law an "unprecedented and unconstitutional expansion of the federal government into the daily lives of every American."</p><p>"In both public surveys and at the ballot box, Americans have rejected the law's mandate that they must buy government-approved health insurance, and I hope the Supreme&nbsp;Court will do the same," McConnell said.</p><p>Republicans have called the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act unconstitutional since before Obama signed it into law in March 2010. But only one of the four federal appeals courts that have considered the health&nbsp;care overhaul has struck down even a part of the law.</p><p>The federal appeals court in Atlanta said Congress exceeded its power under the Constitution when it adopted the mandate. The federal appeals court in Cincinnati upheld the entire law, as did appellate judges in Washington, DC, in recent days.</p><p>The case could become the high court's most significant and political ruling since its 5-4 decision in the Bush v. Gore case nearly 11 years ago effectively sealed George W. Bush's 2000 presidential election victory.</p><p>In addition to deciding whether the law's central mandate is constitutional, the justices will also determine whether the rest of the law can take effect even if that central mandate is held unconstitutional. The law's opponents say the whole thing should fall if the individual mandate falls.</p><p>The administration counters that most of the law still could function, but says that requirements that insurers cover anyone and not set higher rates for people with pre-existing conditions are inextricably linked with the mandate and shouldn't remain in place without it.</p><p>The court also will look at the expansion of the joint federal-state Medicaid program that provides health&nbsp;care to poorer Americans. Florida and the 25 other states say the law goes too far in coercing them into participating by threatening a cutoff of federal money. The states contend that the vast expansion of the joint federal-state Medicaid program and the requirement that employers offer health insurance violate the Constitution. No appeals court has agreed.</p><p>"The court recognized the seriousness of these vitally important constitutional challenges by allocating an extraordinary amount of time for oral argument," Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi said</p><p>Lastly, the justices might not settle the fight over the constitutionality of the law at all if they agree with a decision by the federal appeals court in Richmond, Va. Those appellate judges said arguments over the law's validity are premature because a federal law generally prohibits challenges to taxes until the taxes are paid. The appeals court reasoned that the penalty for not purchasing insurance will not be paid before federal income tax returns are due in April 2015.</p><p>The administration agreed to seek prompt Supreme&nbsp;Court review of the health&nbsp;care overhaul, though it had options for trying to delay the court's consideration of the law until after the election. The Justice Department passed up the chance to ask the appeals court in Atlanta to reconsider its decision. It is common for the Justice Department to seek review by the full appeals court when a three-judge panel rules against the government.</p><p>Early on, at the district court level, rulings followed political affiliation. Judges appointed by Democratic presidents upheld the law, while Republican appointees struck it down.</p><p>But party lines blurred at two federal appeals courts. In Atlanta, Judge Frank Hull, a Clinton appointee, joined with a Republican colleague in striking down the mandate. In Cincinnati, Judge Jeffrey Sutton, a Bush appointee, was the deciding vote in upholding the law. And in the District of Columbia, Senior Judge Laurence Silberman, named to the bench by President Ronald Reagan, and Senior Judge Harry Edwards, a Carter appointee, voted together to uphold the law.</p><p>Legal experts have offered a range of opinions about what the high court might do. Many prominent Supreme&nbsp;Court lawyers believe that the law will be upheld by a lopsided vote, with Republican and Democratic appointees ruling in its favor. Still others predict a close outcome, with Justice Anthony Kennedy, a Republican who sometimes joins his four Democratic colleagues, holding the deciding vote.</p><p>Compounding the speculation over the outcome is the backdrop against which a decision is expected, the final few months of the presidential campaign.</p></p> Mon, 14 Nov 2011 16:25:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/story/supreme-court-will-hear-arguments-over-obama-health-care-plan-94022 New law aims to help Illinoisans quit smoking http://www.wbez.org/story/new-law-aims-help-illinoisans-quit-smoking-91243 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//story/photo/2011-August/2011-08-30/cigarette_Flickr_Raul Liberwirth.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>A new Illinois law requires insurance companies to offer coverage for services meant to get smokers to kick the habit. Gov. Quinn signed the law on Monday.</p><p>The American Lung Association in Illinois enthusiastically backed the law. It said the law could be a tremendous help to tens of thousands of tobacco users who want to quit smoking but can't afford the services they need to make that happen.</p><p>A vice president at the state association, Kathy Drea, argued that getting smokers to quit not only improves the health of individuals. She said it reduces the several billion dollars that smoking-related diseases cost Illinois as a whole each year.</p><p>The smoking-cessation programs that insurance companies would be required to offer coverage on include various medical treatments and counseling by physicians.</p></p> Tue, 30 Aug 2011 15:25:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/story/new-law-aims-help-illinoisans-quit-smoking-91243 Grant will kick start new state health insurance exchange http://www.wbez.org/story/grant-will-kick-start-new-state-health-insurance-exchange-90966 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//story/photo/2011-August/2011-08-24/Doctors with Patient_Getty_David McNew.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>The Illinois Department of Insurance has been awarded a $5.1 million federal grant to develop and maintain a health insurance exchange where consumers can shop for coverage.</p><p>The nation's new health care law requires the exchanges to be running in states by 2014.</p><p>Insurance exchanges will allow people and small businesses to comparison shop online for insurance. The concept has been described as Travelocity for health insurance.</p><p>The grant will help Illinois design the information infrastructure. It will go toward hiring staff to plan and coordinate with consultants to create the design features.</p><p>Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn said in a statement released Tuesday that the grant will help create a strong exchange and develop tools to make it easy for everyone to use.</p></p> Wed, 24 Aug 2011 15:43:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/story/grant-will-kick-start-new-state-health-insurance-exchange-90966 Illinois appeals panel puts insurance changes on hold http://www.wbez.org/story/illinois-appeals-panel-puts-insurance-changes-hold-90115 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//story/photo/2011-August/2011-08-04/RS819_AP110601082693.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>Gov. Pat Quinn's administration has been ordered to wait a while longer before making sweeping changes to state employees' health insurance plans.</p><p>An appeals court has ruled that the state of Illinois must wait for a lawsuit over the changes to make its way through the courts before moving forward.</p><p>Illinois had awarded new health insurance contracts for employees that were to begin July 1.</p><p>But a lower court judge placed a stay on the new contracts as part of a lawsuit filed by providers who are upset they weren't chosen by the state.</p><p>The decision handed down Wednesday upholds the lower court ruling.</p><p>State employees are currently covered by temporary contracts that expire Sept. 28. Legislators say those contracts will likely have to be extended.</p></p> Thu, 04 Aug 2011 14:22:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/story/illinois-appeals-panel-puts-insurance-changes-hold-90115 As cancer treatments advance, so do costs http://www.wbez.org/story/2011-06-06/cancer-treatments-advance-so-do-costs-87527 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//npr_story/photo/2011-June/2011-06-07/cancercare.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>At a big cancer meeting in Chicago right now there's a lot of talk about progress in cancer treatment, including experimental new drugs for <a href="http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMoa1104621?query=featured_home">skin cancer</a> and <a href="http://www.latimes.com/health/boostershots/la-heb-crizotinib-lung-cancer-06052011,0,6068440.story?track=rss">lung cancer</a>.</p><p>More and more often the medicines being developed to <a href="http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052702304432304576367802580935000.html?mod=googlenews_wsj">treat cancer act narrowly</a> — on very specific types of cancer linked to specific genetic mutations. The drugs tend to be of most help to a relatively small group of patients, and that combination means prices for the treatments can be very high.</p><p>So it seems fitting that the steep cost of cancer care is also getting a look at the American Society of Clinical Oncology <a href="http://chicago2011.asco.org/ASCODailyNews.aspx">conference</a>. And some of the findings are pretty sobering.</p><p></p><p>Take, for instance, a look at the financial prognosis for cancer patients in the state of Washington. Researchers linked databases on newly diagnosed cancer and court records to figure out the risk of bankruptcy for cancer patients. Among the more than 230,000 people in the cancer database, <a href="http://abstract.asco.org/AbstView_102_82633.html">they found</a> that about 4,800 had filed for bankruptcy during a follow-up period that averaged a little more than four years.</p><p>Overall, the bankruptcy rate was 2.1 percent for the cancer patients. But the risk of bankruptcy varied by cancer and was highest for those with malignancies of the lung, thyroid, and also leukemia and lymphoma. The risk of bankruptcy was much lower for people age 65 and up, who would be eligible for Medicare.</p><p>Costs of cancer care in the U.S. hit $124.6 billion in 2010 and are expected to surpass $158 billion in 2020, the National Cancer Institute <a href="http://www.cancer.gov/newscenter/pressreleases/2011/CostCancer2020">found in an analysis</a> earlier this year. Check NCI's site <a href="http://costprojections.cancer.gov/graph.php">here</a> for the costs of care for specific cancers.</p><p>Even people with health insurance struggle with the bills. A study from <a href="http://abstract.asco.org/AbstView_102_77396.html">Duke and Dana-Farber Cancer Institute</a> found that out-of-pocket drug copayments and other costs of care not picked up by insurance caused patients to scrimp.</p><p>To cope with those costs, more than half the people spent less on food and clothing. Nearly half used all or part of their savings, and almost one-third didn't fill prescriptions. "People still couldn't afford groceries and were spending life savings on cancer care," Duke's Dr. Yousuf Zafar <a href="http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/06/06/us-cancer-economics-idUSTRE7551YF20110606">told Reuters</a>. <div class="fullattribution">Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. </p> Mon, 06 Jun 2011 14:37:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/story/2011-06-06/cancer-treatments-advance-so-do-costs-87527 Health care law support dips on budget woes http://www.wbez.org/story/news/health-care-law-support-dips-budget-woes-85099 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//story/photo/2011-April/2011-04-12/111995538 (1).jpg" alt="" /><p><p>A new poll finds support for President Barack&nbsp;Obama's overhaul at its lowest level since passage last year.</p><p>Worries about government deficits that keep rising due to health&nbsp;care costs appear to be driving the numbers.</p><p>The Associated Press-GfK poll showed that support for Obama's&nbsp;health insurance expansion has slipped to 35 percent, while&nbsp;opposition stands at 45 percent, and another 17 percent are&nbsp;neutral.</p><p>Among seniors, support has dipped below 30 percent for the first&nbsp;time.</p><p>But in an interview Tuesday with the AP, Medicare chief Donald&nbsp;Berwick pleaded for more time on the health care law. And he&nbsp;branded a leading Republican plan "unfair and harmful" and "a&nbsp;form of withholding care."</p><p>The poll comes ahead of a major speech by Obama on the deficit,&nbsp;scheduled for Wednesday.</p></p> Tue, 12 Apr 2011 21:13:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/story/news/health-care-law-support-dips-budget-woes-85099 Union pacts with Hilton turn up heat on Starwood, Hyatt http://www.wbez.org/story/annemarie-strassel/union-pacts-hilton-turn-heat-starwood-hyatt <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//IMG_2278crop.JPG" alt="" /><p><p>Union contracts with Chicago-area Hilton hotels could pressure other hospitality chains to follow suit.<br> <br> Members of the union UNITE HERE on Friday ratified four-year agreements covering 1,600 Chicago-area workers at the Drake, Palmer House Hilton, Chicago Hilton and Hilton O’Hare.<br> <br> The deals will maintain benefits and raise wages, said UNITE HERE Local 1 spokeswoman Annemarie Strassel. Workers will continue paying $30 per month for family medical coverage with no added out-of-pocket expenses, while room-attendant pay will increase more than 12 percent to $16.40 an hour over the four years, she said.<br> <br> A Hilton statement called the contracts “good for our company and good for our team members.”<br> <br> The agreements make Hilton the first hotel chain in the Chicago area to settle with UNITE HERE since the union’s local contracts expired in 2009.<br> <br> Hotel management consultant Ted Mandigo said the deals strengthen UNITE HERE’s hand. “Having an agreement with Hilton gives a set of negotiated terms that form a basis for what [the union] is going to look for from Starwood and the Hyatt organization,” he said, referring to the Chicago area’s other major unionized hotel chains.<br> <br> In 2006, three-year union deals with Hilton quickly led to similar pacts with the other hotels.<br> <br> Starwood negotiator Jim Franczek said he hadn’t seen the Hilton agreement and, therefore, couldn’t comment on it.<br> <br> Officials of Hyatt, a Chicago-based company, didn’t immediately answer our questions Monday.<br> <br> Henry Tamarin, president of Local 1, said the Hilton deals would “definitely increase pressure” on the other companies. “But we have some sharper issues with Hyatt,” Tamarin said, pointing to subcontracting and housekeeping workloads.</p></p> Mon, 07 Mar 2011 22:44:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/story/annemarie-strassel/union-pacts-hilton-turn-heat-starwood-hyatt