WBEZ | Obamacare http://www.wbez.org/tags/obamacare Latest from WBEZ Chicago Public Radio en The Supreme Court's new term: here's what to watch http://www.wbez.org/news/supreme-courts-new-term-heres-what-watch-113172 <p><p style="text-align: justify;">The United States Supreme Court opens a new term Monday, and, as always, many of the most contentious issues facing the country &mdash; including abortion, birth control coverage, public employee unions, affirmative action in higher education, voter participation &mdash; are likely to be before the court.</p><p style="text-align: justify;">But there is a difference this term. Chief Justice John Roberts, despite his overall conservative record on the bench, has become a punching bag for candidates vying for the Republican presidential nomination.</p><p style="text-align: justify;"><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/first%20three.JPG" style="height: 749px; width: 250px; margin-left: 10px; margin-right: 10px; float: right;" title="" />Presidential candidates have often criticized the court, pledging that they would appoint a different kind of justice. It&#39;s been more than a half century, though, since politicians have put a chief justice, by name, in the cross-hairs of criticism. What is puzzling about the Roberts critique is that the right hailed this George W. Bush appointee when he was named ten years ago, and Roberts has a consistently conservative record on most issues.</p><p style="text-align: justify;">He has voted with the court&#39;s conservatives to strike down most of the legal limits on campaign spending, opening election campaigns nationwide to a flood of new cash. He has consistently supported an individual&#39;s right to bear arms. He wrote the court&#39;s opinion in the 2013 case&nbsp;<em>Shelby County v. Holder</em>, which struck down the heart of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. He has consistently opposed any sort of racial preferences. Last term, he wrote the leading dissent when the court struck down state laws banning same-sex marriage.</p><p style="text-align: justify;">On only one flashpoint subject has he parted ways with some or all or the court&#39;s most conservative members: Obamacare.</p><p style="text-align: justify;">Yet, in the first two televised debates, Republican candidates took turns pummeling him, characterizing his nomination as a grave mistake, and suggesting that Roberts follows a political path rather than a legal one. If President George W. Bush had appointed someone more conservative than Roberts, said Sen. Ted Cruz, &quot;Obamacare would have been struck down three years ago, and the marriage laws of all fifty states would be on the books.&quot;</p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/last2.JPG" style="text-align: justify; float: right; height: 495px; width: 250px; margin-left: 10px; margin-right: 10px;" title="" /></p><p style="text-align: justify;">Never mind that Roberts actually dissented in the same-sex marriage case.&nbsp;Jeb Bush, whose brother appointed Roberts, was less strident, but suggested nonetheless that Roberts was a &quot;politically expedient&quot; choice because he was a conservative whom the Senate could confirm. And Gov. Mike Huckabee said that he would require anyone he appointed to oppose all abortions and to see religious freedom as the first of all rights.</p><p style="text-align: justify;">Nobody thinks it will be easy for Chief Justice Roberts or the other justices to ignore such talk. But, the job of the chief justice is, among other things, to guard the independence of the judiciary and to preserve the court&#39;s institutional role as a dispassionate arbiter of the nation&#39;s laws and the Constitution.</p><p style="text-align: justify;">Notwithstanding the critique in the GOP debates, the Roberts court is most often a conservative court. But it is closely divided, and last term, for the first time in a decade, the court&#39;s liberals prevailed in the majority of 5-to-4 rulings. They did that by picking off not just Roberts and Justice Kennedy on Obamacare, and Kennedy on same-sex marriage, but other conservative justices in other cases.</p><p style="text-align: justify;">Most experts see those liberal victories, however, as a product of an idiosyncratic mix of cases. This term, the issues play much more to the strength of the court&#39;s conservatives. There are cases that could further cut back affirmative action in higher education, hobble or destroy public employee unions, and make it easier to limit voter participation in elections.</p><p style="text-align: justify;">There is a strong likelihood that the court will revisit the abortion question, as well as the issue of birth control coverage under Obamacare. &quot;The worry is, does what goes around come around,&quot; said Tom Goldstein, Supreme Court advocate and publisher of SCOTUSblog, &quot;and the writing on the wall sure seems to up there that has got the left scared &mdash; bejesus!&quot;</p><p style="text-align: justify;">The court, for instance, for the first time is being asked to determine the meaning of the one-person, one-vote principle in<em>&nbsp;Evenwel v. Abbott.</em> Does it mean that state legislative districts should have the same number of people, or the same number of eligible voters? Does the population count include children, non-citizen immigrants both in the country legally and illegally, and others like those with a criminal record who are thus ineligible to vote? Or does the population count include only those eligible to vote, or even just those registered to vote?</p><p style="text-align: justify;">Virtually all state and local governments currently draw districts based on total population. But if those challenging that practice prevail, it could dramatically shift political power away from districts with lots of children and immigrants, and it would likely give Republicans a big boost in state legislative elections.</p><p style="text-align: justify;">Also likely to come before the court are election cases involving strict voter ID laws and other provisions that make it more difficult to vote.</p><p style="text-align: justify;">The union case,&nbsp;<em>Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association</em>, could also have huge political consequences by crippling public employee unions and possibly all unions. The case pits the practical needs of collective bargaining against the First Amendment. The nation&#39;s labor laws, as the court has interpreted them since 1977, have struck the balance this way. Once a majority of public employees vote to be represented by a union, those who choose not to join do not have to pay for the union&#39;s political activities, but they do have to pay for contract negotiations that they benefit from.</p><p style="text-align: justify;">In short, they must pay their so-called &quot;fair share.&quot; Otherwise they would become free riders on the backs of those who do pay. In two recent cases, four justices, and possibly five, have suggested that requiring such fair share payments violates the nonmembers&#39; free speech rights.</p><p style="text-align: justify;">Waiting in the wings at the high court are two politically incendiary cases: one involving abortion, the other birth control under Obamacare. The abortion test case will likely come from Texas, where the Republican-controlled legislature enacted strict new regulations on abortion clinics, requiring them to make costly renovations, and limiting the ability of doctors to perform abortions. The state maintains that the new law was aimed at protecting the health and safety of women. Abortion providers, backed by major medical organizations, counter that the regulations are unnecessary and that the law is in fact aimed at making abortions difficult to obtain.</p><p style="text-align: justify;">The birth control case is a test of the Obamacare provision that exempts religious organizations from having to pay for birth control coverage in their health insurance plans. While churches, synagogues and the like are totally exempt, religiously affiliated organizations such as universities and hospitals are exempt only if they notify the federal government of their objections. That in turn triggers an independent mechanism to provide the coverage for those employees who want it. Some religious organizations contend that the notification requirement makes them complicit in facilitating birth control coverage and thus violates their religious principles.</p><p style="text-align: justify;">&mdash; <a href="http://www.npr.org/sections/itsallpolitics/2015/10/05/445885201/the-supreme-courts-new-term-heres-what-to-watch?ft=nprml&amp;f=445885201" target="_blank"><em>via NPR</em></a></p></p> Mon, 05 Oct 2015 09:47:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/supreme-courts-new-term-heres-what-watch-113172 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 Sen. Coats: Shutdown didn't work, but 'Obamacare' should still be delayed http://www.wbez.org/news/sen-coats-shutdown-didnt-work-obamacare-should-still-be-delayed-108997 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//main-images/coats.PNG" alt="" /><p><p>Republicans are still sorting through the aftermath of the government shutdown and debt ceiling standoff. While many in the GOP are taking their lumps, some are credited with helping to avoid a government default. One of them is U.S. Senator Dan Coats of Indiana.&nbsp;WBEZ&rsquo;s Michael Puente spoke to Senator Coats earlier today.&nbsp;</p></p> Wed, 23 Oct 2013 17:46:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/sen-coats-shutdown-didnt-work-obamacare-should-still-be-delayed-108997 Emanuel sticks with plan to phase out retiree health care payments http://www.wbez.org/news/emanuel-sticks-plan-phase-out-retiree-health-care-payments-108881 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//main-images/Rahm budget round table WBEZ Alex Keefe.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>Despite a federal lawsuit, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel said Wednesday he will move forward with a plan to phase out taxpayer-funded health care subsidies for tens of thousands of retired city workers starting next year.</p><p>The cost-cutting move is expected to save the city about $18 million in 2014, when City Hall is staring down an estimated $338.7 million budget hole.</p><p>The city&rsquo;s oldest retirees would get to keep their subsidies of up to 55 percent, thanks to an earlier federal legal settlement. But about 21,100 retirees and 9,100 spouses and dependents would see their city-paid subsides reduced, until those payments are zeroed out by 2017.</p><p>&ldquo;As I told everybody, we&rsquo;re gonna deal with the hard truths and not run away from &lsquo;em,&rdquo; Emanuel said Wednesday after a public roundtable with small business leaders.</p><p>&ldquo;[We] are gonna make changes over a three-year period of time as the healthcare landscape is also changing,&rdquo; he said.</p><p>The city is expected to spend about $103 million on health care subsidies by the close of 2013, according to Kelley Quinn, a spokeswoman for Emanuel&rsquo;s budget office. Next year, payments would drop to about $85 million as the city begins the three-year phase-out. That&rsquo;s if the plan survives a challenge currently playing out in federal court.</p><p>Workers hired between Aug. 23, 1989 and July 1, 2005 would see their city subsidy drop from 55 percent to 41.25 percent. Payments for workers hired after that will drop to between 30 percent and 37.5 percent, depending on how long the employee has worked for the city.</p><p>Emanuel&rsquo;s office is refusing to reveal how much the city subsidies will shrink during 2015 and 2016.</p><p>About 4,000 of the city&rsquo;s oldest retirees will get to keep their city subsidy of up to 55 percent for the rest of their lives.</p><p>After the city phases out its retiree health care subsides, Emanuel&rsquo;s office says retired workers who aren&rsquo;t eligible for Medicare will have the option of buying insurance through the Affordable Care Act, sometimes called &ldquo;Obamacare.&rdquo;</p><p>A Chicago lawyer filed a class action lawsuit in September arguing that Emanuel&rsquo;s move violates a part of the Illinois Constitution that states pension benefits &ldquo;shall not be diminished or impaired.&rdquo;</p><p>Emanuel is set to introduce his 2014 budget proposal to the City Council on Oct. 23. He has ruled out raising property, sales or gasoline taxes, but has not closed the door on other possible tax hikes.</p><p><em>Alex Keefe covers politics for WBEZ. Follow him <a href="http://twitter.com/akeefe" target="_blank">@akeefe</a>.</em></p></p> Wed, 09 Oct 2013 14:20:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/emanuel-sticks-plan-phase-out-retiree-health-care-payments-108881 Emanuel blasts 'wrong-headed' GOP leaders over shutdown http://www.wbez.org/news/emanuel-blasts-wrong-headed-gop-leaders-over-shutdown-108837 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//main-images/RS565_By Bill Healy - 4-16-11 - Rahm Inauguration 0027-scr_0.JPG" alt="" /><p><p dir="ltr" id="docs-internal-guid-795452fc-7e86-f80d-0ff1-1f64e11810b6">Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Wednesday blasted Congressional Republicans for their &ldquo;wrong-headed&rdquo; budget brinksmanship he said led to a partial government shutdown, while maintaining that city services are still immune to the impasse in Washington.</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;It&rsquo;s time for the Republican leaders in Congress to step up, provide leadership and tell a small minority in their party to stop trying to hold the country hostage to their ideology,&rdquo; Emanuel told reporters at an unrelated press conference on Wednesday.</p><p dir="ltr">As the first federal shutdown in nearly 18 years entered its second day, Emanuel said city services are still unaffected by the shutdown, which has caused thousands of Chicago-area federal workers to be sent home without pay.</p><p dir="ltr">But if the shutdown persists, the city&rsquo;s immunity could wear off, Emanuel said. He pointed to <a href="http://www.mowaa.org/">Meals on Wheels</a>, a program that delivers food to home-bound senior citizens.</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;That&rsquo;s a federally-funded program, administered locally. It will have an impact, both on the people that provide it, [and] the people that rely on it,&rdquo; Emanuel said. &ldquo;And it&rsquo;s wrong. It&rsquo;s foolish. It&rsquo;s preventable.&rdquo;</p><p dir="ltr">Joyce Gallagher, who heads the city&rsquo;s Senior Services Area Agency on Aging, said there have been no impacts on the meals program yet, and she did not anticipate any down the road. The mayor&rsquo;s office didn&rsquo;t immediately respond to a request for clarification.</p><p dir="ltr">Though Emanuel wouldn&rsquo;t name names, the mayor said he has been talking with leaders he knows in Washington, D.C. from his years as a Democratic Congressman.</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;The ones I&rsquo;ve talked to are fully conscious this is a wrong-headed strategy,&rdquo; he said.</p><p dir="ltr">He also defended President Barack Obama&rsquo;s handling of the shutdown, suggesting that it&rsquo;s time for the GOP to drop its at-any-cost opposition to the Affordable Care Act, sometimes called &ldquo;Obamacare.&rdquo;</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;The election was a referendum. Elections have consequences. The American people have spoken, he has gotten re-elected, and he&rsquo;s being very reasonable about a way to move forward. They are being unreasonable and irresponsible and reckless.&rdquo;</p><p>House Republicans have blamed Senate Democrats and the White House for refusing to accept any of their proposed changes to the president&rsquo;s signature health care law.</p><p><em>Al Keefe covers politics for WBEZ. Follow him <a href="http://twitter.com/akeefe">@akeefe</a></em></p></p> Wed, 02 Oct 2013 17:33:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/emanuel-blasts-wrong-headed-gop-leaders-over-shutdown-108837 First day glitches as Affordable Care Act launches http://www.wbez.org/news/first-day-glitches-affordable-care-act-launches-108822 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//main-images/getcoveredillinois.jpg" alt="" /><p><p dir="ltr">The government may have shut down today, but the Affordable Care Act is marching forward. The state website, <a href="http://getcoveredillinois.gov/">Get Covered Illinois,</a> was up by early this morning. And the <a href="https://www.healthcare.gov/">federal website,</a> where Illinois residents will shop on the marketplace for coverage, was also live. But many people encountered glitches, delays, and error messages.</p><p dir="ltr">Jose Galarza is the billing manager at the Infant Welfare Society on the Northwest side of Chicago. They don&rsquo;t have health navigators in their offices, but staff did receive training to sign people up on the marketplace and the organization is listed on the government&rsquo;s website<a href="http://getcoveredillinois.gov/get-help/"> as an official resource. </a></p><p dir="ltr">Galarza says his organization has been preparing for today for a long time. This morning he says he was full of nervous energy. &ldquo;I was up at 4:30 a.m. this morning, thinking about this the whole process and what to expect,&rdquo; he said.</p><p dir="ltr">When he got to the office the first thing Galarza did was to go to the website and try to fill out an application. &nbsp;He received error messages and never completed the process. Later, he couldn&rsquo;t get to the application at all and instead received a message that the site was overburned by traffic.</p><p dir="ltr">Galarza&rsquo;s experiences were not unique. Organizations and individuals across the city reported similar problems. Before today&rsquo;s launch officials said that some aspects of the site, such as the Spanish language version and small business site, wouldn&rsquo;t be entirely complete.</p><p dir="ltr">By 9:30 a.m. Galarza says three people called to say they would come in for help that day. &nbsp;&ldquo;I put myself in the client&#39;s shoes. If I am excited and I get myself &nbsp;prepared, and then come into a place like this... and [can&rsquo;t fill out an application], it would be very frustrating,&rdquo; he said.</p><p dir="ltr">Illinois Governor Pat Quinn cautioned against judging the Affordable Care Act based on first day problems. &nbsp;&ldquo;We understand with any new program there will be glitches and bumps along the way. When Apple unveils a new device, they may have some minor problems and glitches&hellip; but they go forward. They don&rsquo;t stop and say they will take a year off. They understand how important it is to complete the mission,&rdquo; said Quinn.</p><p dir="ltr">Despite his frustrations, Galarza had a positive message for his clients, one that wasn&rsquo;t that different from the Governor&#39;s. &ldquo;I would say just take a deep breath. We have until December 15th, which is the deadline for your coverage to start on January 1st,&rdquo; said Galarza.</p><p dir="ltr">According to the state, as of 6:00 p.m. more than 76,653 visitors &nbsp;had come to the online marketplace.</p><p>If you run into a problem or need help navigating the website, you can contact the state hotline at 1-866-311-1119.</p><p><em>Shannon Heffernan is a WBEZ reporter. Follow her <a href="https://twitter.com/shannon_h">@shannon_h</a></em></p></p> Wed, 02 Oct 2013 09:35:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/first-day-glitches-affordable-care-act-launches-108822 Morning Shift: Government shuts down as 'Obamacare' starts up http://www.wbez.org/programs/morning-shift-tony-sarabia/2013-10-01/morning-shift-government-shuts-down-obamacare-starts <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//main-images/capitol Flickr - Phil Roeder_0.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>With a government shut-down looming, we discuss how it affects government agencies as well as the general public. Bruce Japsen explains the ins and outs of the Obamacare marketplace exchanges that are launching, and the Rhythm of Rajasthan perform. (Photo: Flickr/Phil Roeder)</p><div class="storify"><iframe allowtransparency="true" frameborder="no" height="750" src="//storify.com/WBEZ/morning-shift-government-shuts-down-obamacare-star/embed?header=false" width="100%"></iframe><script src="//storify.com/WBEZ/morning-shift-government-shuts-down-obamacare-star.js?header=false"></script><noscript>[<a href="//storify.com/WBEZ/morning-shift-government-shuts-down-obamacare-star" target="_blank">View the story "Morning Shift: Government shuts down as 'Obamacare' starts up" on Storify</a>]</noscript></div></p> Tue, 01 Oct 2013 10:01:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/programs/morning-shift-tony-sarabia/2013-10-01/morning-shift-government-shuts-down-obamacare-starts Morning Shift: Heroin addiction in the suburbs http://www.wbez.org/programs/morning-shift-tony-sarabia/2013-09-24/morning-shift-heroin-addiction-suburbs-108751 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//main-images/heroin Flickr by obviously_c.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>We take a look at the growing problem of heroin addiction in the suburbs. We also hear from Evanston playwright, Dan Noonan, and his new award winning play, &quot;Set Up&quot;.<br />Photo: Flickr/obviously_c</p></p> Tue, 24 Sep 2013 12:41:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/programs/morning-shift-tony-sarabia/2013-09-24/morning-shift-heroin-addiction-suburbs-108751 Scams take advantage of Affordable Care Act confusion http://www.wbez.org/news/scams-take-advantage-affordable-care-act-confusion-108430 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//main-images/aca.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>A poll from Kaiser recently showed that most Americans do not understand how the Affordable Care Act will impact them. That lack of information offers a perfect opportunity for scams.</p><p>The Better Business Bureau says people have received calls from someone claiming to be from the government. They offer insurance cards, but say they need personal information to complete the process.</p><p>Tom Joyce is an Illinois representative for the Better Business Bureau.&nbsp;</p><p>&ldquo;A red flag would be if they ask you for your social security number, bank account information, credit card information. That information can be used for identity theft,&rdquo; says Joyce.</p><p>Jason Echols works for Illinois Ageoptions. He says it&rsquo;s not only about identity theft.&nbsp; Some businesses are using misleading language to sell their products. For example,&nbsp; businesses advertise that they are an &ldquo;affordable health exchange.&rdquo; That language implies they are part of the state-run marketplace, even though the real Illinois Insurance marketplace won&rsquo;t open until October 1, 2013.</p><p>Echols says some companies are also offering &ldquo;discount medical plans.&rdquo;&nbsp; These discount plans aren&rsquo;t actually insurance, and they often confuse people who are looking to be insured before it becomes mandatory under the Affordable Care Act.</p><p>The Illinois Attorney General&rsquo;s office says they&rsquo;ve not received reports of Affordable Care Act-related scams yet, but are keeping a close eye on the issue.&nbsp;</p><p><em>Shannon Heffernan is a WBEZ reporter. Follow her @shannon_h.&nbsp;</em></p></p> Thu, 15 Aug 2013 15:15:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/scams-take-advantage-affordable-care-act-confusion-108430