Census 2020: High stakes for Illinois

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One of the federal government’s most vital functions is one of its most overlooked. Americans rarely think about the U.S. census, the once-a-decade exercise that has at its core something many of us have little patience for: a questionnaire.

Yet so much hinges on people’s answers to those questionnaires, and the wealth of data they yield. The 2020 census is two years away, but there’s a whole lot of cause for Illinoisans to be concerned. Interim metrics tell us that Illinois has been bleeding population at an alarming — and accelerating — rate. It’s critically important that Illinois limit the damage from that outflow by urging its residents to help provide a full, accurate count.

Census findings serve as the basis for nearly $20 billion in federal money that Illinois gets every year for a vast array of needs — from highways and housing to health care and foster care. This state appears sure to lose one of its 18 seats in the U.S. House but could lose two. As that number shrinks, so does Illinois’ voice in the Electoral College. What’s the basis for the boundaries of federal, state and local voting districts? The census. And businesses from Walgreens to Walmart, sensitive to population growth or decline, use census data to help decide where to open and close stores.

At this point, Washington should be deep into its prep work for the census. But it’s not. The Census Bureau had wanted to carry out three dry runs around the country that would test new technologies as well as outreach strategies to ensure accurate counts. Congress, however, has underfunded census preparations, forcing the cancellation of two dress rehearsals. Field testing is especially important with this census, since it will be the first time questionnaires largely will be administered online.

The Trump administration also has yet to appoint a director to lead the bureau. And its push to ask people about their citizenship status has fueled fears of a substantial undercount. If it makes it onto the questionnaire, that question could lead Latinos and members of other groups who are fearful of the administration’s hard-line immigration policies to ignore the census, which always counts citizens and noncitizens alike.

That would especially hurt Illinois. In 2017, Illinois lost a net 33,703 residents, marking the fourth consecutive year of population loss and dropping the state to sixth largest in the country, one rung below Pennsylvania. The last thing this state needs is a census undercount that magnifies its population plunge.

The federal to-do list: Appoint a director, provide the funding the census bureau needs to do its job, and shelve the citizenship question.

But there’s also a state and local government to-do list. Illinois shouldn’t just sit back and hope for an accurate count.

Springfield and locales statewide can minimize the potential for an undercount here through public awareness campaigns. The message? Census data is confidential information that won’t be relayed to law enforcement, data that’s vital to Illinois’ representation in Congress and its fair share of federal funds. Illinois nonprofits and community groups with links to population segments vulnerable to undercounting also can ensure participation. County governments and agricultural groups can work on rural areas, while Latino organizations can calm fears about the census in Hispanic neighborhoods.

The potential alternative is a flawed census that robs Illinois of its rightful share of federal funding, further weakens its political clout, and makes investment here by businesses less likely.

Yes, Illinois is losing people. Let’s make sure the government counts everyone who’s here.

Join the discussion on Twitter @Trib_Ed_Board and on Facebook.

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Census 2020: High stakes for Illinois

Ralph Martire: ISBE’s provocative funding request

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By RALPH MARTIRE

According to Webster’s Dictionary, the word “provocative” means: “serving to arouse a needed stimulus for action.” It’s no secret the media is constantly on the hunt for provocative material. What’s also no secret is the media tends to focus on items that are provocative because they’re divisive, racist or otherwise polarizing. Which explains why they whiffed on covering the Illinois State Board of Education’s K-12 funding request for next year — which calls for the state to invest $13.9 billion in educating Illinois’ school children — or more than double what was passed into law for this year, FY2018.

Now that’s provocative. The media missed it, however, because it isn’t provocative due to its negativity or its capacity to polarize. Rather, ISBE’s funding request is provocative because of its inherent rationality and capacity “to stimulate action” for the common good.

Understanding why that’s the case requires a brief overview of the historic change to Illinois’ school funding formula that became law last August.

Known as the “Evidence Based Model” or “EBM,” Illinois’ new formula represents the best practice in school funding for one simple reason: It ties the amount taxpayers invest in schools to those educational practices that the research shows actually enhance student academic achievement.

As ISBE notes, the EBM creates an “Adequacy Target” of resources based on 34 cost factors, adjusted by formula to account for the individualized needs of school districts statewide — which is crucial, given the incredibly diverse student population they serve.

This represents a marked improvement over Illinois’ prior “foundation formula,” which wasn’t based on any evidence or any actual costs of educating students.

Instead, decision makers set an arbitrary, statewide dollar amount of per-student school funding, predicated not on what it takes to educate kids, but rather on what state government could afford. Given Illinois’ enormous fiscal problems, it’s no wonder the old system was woefully inadequate. Worse, consistently inadequate state funding over time pushed the primary obligation to fund schools down to local property taxes, creating one of the most inequitable systems in America.

Charged with making a funding recommendation under the new EBM for next year, ISBE engaged in an entirely rational, data-based analysis.

First, it calibrated how far from satisfying the evidenced-based Adequacy Target of each school district current K-12 funding levels are. Next, ISBE noted that the Evidence Based Model includes only state and local resources invested in K-12, not federal funding.

Since the feds cover around 10 percent of K-12 education costs, ISBE reduced what had to be funded under the EBM accordingly, to cover just 90 percent of the shortfall between what the evidence shows is needed and current funding levels.

Finally, ISBE cited Illinois’ consistent failure to fulfill the constitutional imperative that the state assume the “primary responsibility for financing the system of public education” as the core reason for the significant over-reliance on local property taxes that has created the highly inequitable system Illinois has today. How inequitable? Well, ISBE’s preliminary calculations show Illinois school districts range from having only 46 percent of the resources the evidence indicate are needed to educate the students they serve to having 284 percent.

That’s quite the gap, which ISBE correctly concludes can’t be filled equitably unless the state covers the difference.

And while the price tag is significant, the evidence also shows it’s worth it from an economic standpoint.

For instance, research shows that every dollar spent on education returns $5.37 to a state’s economy. Moreover, the Federal Reserve found states with the best high school graduation rates had the highest per capita incomes. Research further indicates gaining a 90 percent graduation rate for students of color could grow Illinois’ economy by $264 million more annually. Yep, ISBE’s recommendation is provocative alright — but hopefully it provides the impetus for lawmakers to fund the EBM fully — given it’s rational, based on the evidence of what works, and promotes the public good.

Ralph Martire is executive director of the Center for Tax and Budget Accountability, a bipartisan fiscal policy think tank. He can be reached at rmartire@ctbaonline.org.

Ralph Martire: ISBE’s provocative funding request

Gov. Bruce Rauner visits annual Algonquin/Lake in the Hills Chamber awards gala

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LAKEWOOD – More than 100 members of the Algonquin/Lake in the Hills Chamber of Commerce cheered as Gov. Bruce Rauner and his wife, Diana Rauner, walked into the Chamber’s annual awards gala Saturday night at Turnberry Country Club, 9600 Turnberry Trail.

In his brief acknowledgment of the business awards finalists, Rauner said that Illinois has every reason to thrive, but he said high taxes and “lots of regulations” are holding back businesses in the state.

“My No. 1 priority is to make sure that we’re helping you thrive and build your business by rolling back the regulations and cutting the taxes so you can be prosperous and boom and grow, and create a lot of good-paying jobs in the state of Illinois,” Rauner said.

Rauner said the state has challenges, such as funding state pensions and education, but he told business community members that the state’s challenges can be overcome with strong economic growth.

“Higher family incomes, greater prosperity, [a] better future for our children and grandchildren … every challenge we face comes through greater economic opportunity,” Rauner said.

Rauner said he is committed to rolling income tax back to 3 percent and helping business owners bring down property taxes by reducing mandates in Springfield.

“You control your own governments – your city governments, your villages, your municipalities, your townships – you run them; don’t let Springfield tell you how to run them,” Rauner said. “You run them yourself, and we will give you the power through a simple referendum to control your property tax levy.”

Lake in the Hills Village President Russ Ruzanski said he appreciates that the Rauners stopped at the event when they easily could have been anywhere else on a Saturday evening.

“That shows respect for everybody that is here and, in turn, I think he earns a lot of respect from the people who are here,” Ruzanski said.

After his speech, Rauner said he makes a point to go out of his way to meet small business owners and do what he can to make sure they succeed and help Illinois succeed as a whole.

“What I do is listen to them,” Rauner said. “What regulations are getting in their way? What regulations can we get rid of so that it makes it easier for them to grow, and what taxes are the most difficult for them so we can try to cut those taxes to make them more competitive and grow?”

Rauner said he has a connection with McHenry County because his godparents live in Algonquin. He said he decided to stop by the event because he was attending an event in Rolling Meadows earlier in the day.

Katrina McGuire, executive director for the Algonquin/Lake in the Hills Chamber, said all state representatives and leaders in local government get an invite to the gala every year.

She said 1,300 public votes were cast for the awards for local businesses that are part of the Chamber.

CHAMBER AWARD WINNERS

New Chamber Member Business winner

Butcher on the Block

Club/Organization winner

​Algonquin Area Public Library

Hospitality/Food/Entertainment winner

​Scorched Earth Brewing Co.

Large Business winner

​Algonquin Bank and Trust

Home Office winner

​Crystal Lake Engraving – Dawn Gilman

Retail winner

​Costco Wholesale

Personal/Home Services winner

​Clarendale of Algonquin

Professional Services winner

​Diamond Physical Therapy

Volunteer of the Year

Rich Peril of RVG Real Estate Services

Board Member of the Year

Russell Farnum of the village of Algonquin

Gov. Bruce Rauner visits annual Algonquin/Lake in the Hills Chamber awards gala

Hospitals worry about closures, layoffs as they brace for Medicaid funding changes

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It wasn’t long ago that Charles Holland was giving opening-day tours of the gleaming outpatient center at St. Bernard Hospital in the Englewood neighborhood, built to bring a bevy of health care services — and optimism — to a community in need of both.

A year and a half later, the carpets still look brand-new, but the CEO’s tour is tinged with great anxiety about the future of the 114-year-old hospital.

As the state revamps an outdated formula that distributes hospital Medicaid funding, many hospitals like St. Bernard whose budgets rely heavily on the money are bracing for a financial hit they say they can’t afford.

“We can’t be cut a dollar,” said Holland, who last year laid off more than 20 managers and instituted a pay and hiring freeze to control costs amid rising expenses. “In fact, I need more money to keep the hospital viable for the future.”

St. Bernard is among the state’s 22 safety net hospitals — those where more than half of patient stays are covered by Medicaid. Across the Chicago area, those institutions are worried that the revised funding formula will cut deeply into their budgets. They say the prospect of mass layoffs, reduced services or outright closures of their facilities will be devastating to the communities they serve, which already lack adequate health care and jobs.

“It’s just unconscionable; it’s detrimental to our very being,” said George Miller, president and CEO of the 189-bed Loretto Hospital, where about 68 percent of inpatient stays are for Medicaid patients. Loretto is the largest employer in the Austin neighborhood, where the unemployment rate is nearly 20 percent, and 40 percent of its 585 employees live in the community, Miller said.

At issue is the state’s hospital assessment program, which distributes about $3.5 billion in Medicaid funding to 200 hospitals across Illinois. That’s more than half of the institutions’ total Medicaid money.

The program requires nearly all of the state’s hospitals to put money into a fund, which is then grown through a federal match before it is redistributed to the hospitals based on a complex formula that takes into account the size of their Medicaid population as well as their dependency on Medicaid funding. For some hospitals with mostly Medicaid patients, the assessment program makes up nearly half of their budget, while for others with many patients on private insurance, it’s a much smaller portion of their funding.

The problem is that the formula hasn’t been updated in over a decade and still bases the amount hospitals pay and receive on 2005 inpatient data and 2009 outpatient data, which officials say doesn’t reflect how and where Medicaid recipients are currently getting their care. A decline in hospital stays, growth in outpatient services, population shifts and an expansion of Medicaid to include some 680,000 more Illinois adults has spread the Medicaid market to more hospitals than were serving the population a decade ago.

The current assessment program expires after June 30, and the Illinois Health and Hospital Association, a trade group representing all the hospitals, has developed a model to modernize the formula. It has been working with the state’s Department of Healthcare and Family Services, plus the bipartisan Medicaid working group in the state legislature, to get a bill drafted.

That’s proving to be a race against the clock, as the plan has to be approved by the General Assembly before being sent to the federal Centers for Medicaid & Medicare Services for final approval and implementation. Lawmakers are expected to vote on the redesigned plan by the end of January or early February.

If July arrives without the new plan in place, some hospitals will not be able to pay their bills or keep their doors open.

To guard against that scenario, crafters of the bill hope to include a bridge provision that would keep the current assessment plan in place until the new one is approved, though that plan also has to get the OK from the Medicaid agency.

The formula changes haven’t been finalized, so it isn’t clear how much more or less money each hospital will receive, but payments will increasingly reflect actual patient and procedure volume, rather than allocating a fixed sum. And the new formula will be based on Medicaid services provided by the hospitals in 2015, with regular updates to keep the data current.

Hospitals that have seen a decline in Medicaid patients since 2005 could see reduced reimbursement, though the complexity of the formula means it’s not so clear-cut. For example, a hospital that has seen an increase in Medicaid patients could still get less money under the new plan if its share of the statewide Medicaid population has declined.

To cash-strapped safety net hospitals that call the assessment their lifeblood, the notion that their funding could be reduced is flabbergasting.

“There are providers that are making profits that are earmarked to take our money,” said Tim Egan, CEO of Roseland Hospital. The far South Side hospital laid off 35 of its 500 employees in December and instituted a pay cut for executives and all nonunion staff, while Egan himself won’t collect a salary for at least 60 days.

Roseland gets $23 million from the assessment program, about half of its budget, and the most recent draft of the proposed changes has it losing $6.6 million of that money, Egan said. That would lead to certain closure of the only hospital within 7 miles in the high-violence community, he said. He calls the situation “absolutely immoral.”

State statistics showing declines in patient volume don’t tell the full story, he added. The state is increasingly moving people into Medicaid managed care organizations, which have higher rates of denying patient claims, and those denied patients are not counted in the state’s Medicaid statistics even though they are still treated. Egan says well over 60 percent of Roseland’s patients are on Medicaid, though the state lists the rate at 53 percent.

But non-safety net hospitals that have seen dramatic growth in Medicaid patients over the last decade also need adequate funding to cover those rising expenses, officials said. Big hospital systems, like Advocate Health and Presence Health, with large patient volumes are among those that could get funding bumps.

“While the assessment hasn’t been finalized, we support a new program that is based on updated data in which funds more closely follow Medicaid patients and the services they receive,” Meghan Woltman, vice president of government and community relations at Advocate Health Care, said in a statement. Advocate, the largest system in the state, has 12 hospitals in Illinois.

“In addition to Medicaid beneficiaries, these dollars are critical to the health care infrastructure of the state,” she said.

Rep. Greg Harris, D-Chicago, a member of the Medicaid working group, said legislators have twin goals: Giving stability to safety net and critical-access rural hospitals, which also are disproportionately affected by the changes, while putting more money where more patients are going.

At the start of discussions, the working group asked the state’s biggest hospital systems if it would be good or bad for them if the safety nets closed, and all said it would be bad, because they don’t have the capacity to absorb tens of thousands of new patients, he said.

“It’s good public policy to be sure that as we set this up for the next five to six years we are sending money to support the transformation of health care to more efficient models but also protecting access to health care,” Harris said.

To support hospitals that will lose money, there is a proposed funding pool of several hundred million dollars to help them adapt to the changing needs of their communities, such as by converting underused facilities to address growing needs like behavioral health, substance abuse and senior rehabilitation.

“We don’t want to put hospitals out of business,” said Rep. Tom Demmer, R-Dixon, a member of the legislature’s Medicaid working group. “We want to make sure health care providers are available in communities to provide the care they need.”

A critical point of contention as the redesign unfolds is how much money the state should be trying to get from the federal government to swell the assessment pot. The Illinois Health and Hospital Association, as well as the Association of Safety Net Hospitals, a lobbying group, are pushing the state to pursue more — one consultant estimated $300 million more could be available. There is a limit to how much money the state can receive from the federal government, though determining that limit involves still more complex calculations.

“We are working diligently to ensure that we maximize the funding for this Medicaid program to allow all of our hospitals to fulfill their mission of caring for their communities,” said A.J. Wilhelmi, CEO of the Illinois Health and Hospital Association.

John Hoffman, spokesman for the Department of Health and Family Services, said in a statement that the department “is committed to drawing down as much federal revenue as it can, within the boundaries of what is permissible under federal law, to support our hospitals. We remain strong advocates of our safety net hospitals and will continue to work with the IHA to ensure their viability to support our communities in the years ahead.”

The 22 safety net hospitals in Illinois, most in the Chicago area, together employ 25,000 people, according to the Association of Safety Net Hospitals.

Many are independent community hospitals like Norwegian-American Hospital in the Humboldt Park neighborhood, which sees 112,000 patients a year. Nearly 80 percent of its patient population is on Medicaid and it receives $31 million from the assessment, according to state figures. About 60 percent of its 900 employees live in the community.

The hospital’s CEO, Jose R. Sanchez, is not confident the state has its back.

“There is no support for safety net hospitals, there is no concern for poor communities right now,” he said.

The safety net hospitals argue their community service provides value beyond a balance sheet.

Dr. Angeles Valdes, director of Norwegian’s wound clinic, is a native of Puerto Rico, like many residents of the neighborhood, and said patients travel there for care from throughout Chicago’s Hispanic community.

“We are not only bilingual but multicultural,” said Valdes, who works to save limbs in the high-diabetes community.

“We have patients who come in from everywhere because they are looking for hope,” she said.

St. Bernard Hospital is the largest employer in Englewood, where economic and safety challenges have driven the population down 35 percent since 2000. Three hundred of its 850 workers live in the neighborhood or surrounding areas, filling cafeteria, cleaning, security and nursing jobs.

The assessment funding constitutes a third of St. Bernard’s budget, and the $1.7 million decrease it is facing would force serious decisions about layoffs and service cuts after so much effort to improve services, Holland said. It recently opened a behavioral health outpatient practice that includes a methadone clinic that sees 220 patients a day.

The $33 million outpatient center it opened in June 2016, financed entirely by the religious order that has operated St. Bernard since 1904, is the best evidence of the hospital’s efforts to respond to the needs of its community. An immediate care clinic, full of waiting families, has helped cut emergency room visits, and specialists like cardiologists have designated hours so people don’t have to travel far for care.

Dr. Daria Terrell, an orthopedic surgeon at the hospital, said the proximity is a huge relief for her many patients who walk with canes or crutches, while others come from hours away because they can’t find another hospital that takes their insurance.

The opening of the sunny building, on a lot that had been vacant for 40 years, was also “a symbol that you’re not giving up on the neighborhood,” and the prospect of a closure would be psychologically damaging, she said.

The hospital doesn’t limit its role to health care. In a conference room designated for community events, it has held mass baby showers for new moms who didn’t have baby showers themselves, collecting gift donations from staff.

It also hosts a monthly senior bingo night, where players can get their blood pressure taken between games.

“It’s just something to do, get out of the house, and have fun and mingle with other people,” said Olivia Taylor, 78, who walks the block from her home to attend. “I look forward to it.”

To Holland, the debate about how to fund hospitals like his shouldn’t be about complex calculations.

“It’s a compassion issue,” Holland said. “Where is the compassion?”

aelejalderuiz@chicagotribune.com

Twitter @alexiaer

Hospitals worry about closures, layoffs as they brace for Medicaid funding changes

Chicago lawmaker known for budget expertise, bow ties retires

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SPRINGFIELD — A Democratic senator known for his expertise on the state budget as much as his sharp sense of style announced Friday that he is leaving office after 30 years in the General Assembly.

Sen. Donne Trotter, whose district stretched from the South Side to parts of Will and Kankakee counties, said last year’s large wave of resignations convinced him it was time to allow a new generation to serve.

Trotter said Senate President John Cullerton “always says there are three ways to leave: in a casket, because you lost or to walk out because it’s the right time. And I think it’s the right time.”

The resignation was effective immediately. It’s likely that state Reps. Marcus Evans or Elgie Sims, who were both mentored by Trotter, would be appointed to fill his seat.

“Like a proud father, I am not taking sides,” Trotter said. “But I think our team that we’ve developed and nurtured here in the district certainly qualify to go forward.”

Trotter, 67, first became a member of the Illinois House in 1988, before joining the Senate in 1993. He is a longtime member of the Senate Democratic leadership team and often was relied on to help shape the state’s annual spending plan.

The lawmaker was a key advocate for expanding health care coverage for low-income families and sponsored legislation that allows parents to legally abandon newborn children at a hospital, fire station or emergency medical facility.

He frequently stood out on the Senate floor, wearing patterned shirts and bow ties while colleagues were dressed in black or navy.

“I will miss his leadership, his counsel, his wisdom, his calm, his experience and, to top it all, his fantastic sense of fashion,” Cullerton said in a statement. “I wish him nothing but the best, and am honored to have worked with him and to consider him my friend.”

Trotter also was an outspoken supporter of gun control measures and had long opposed concealed carry in Illinois. He voted in favor of concealed carry legislation in 2014 after a federal court struck down the state’s ban, though he later opposed the effort to override Gov. Pat Quinn’s veto of the bill.

In 2012, Trotter was arrested for trying to board a flight with a handgun in his carry-on luggage. He eventually pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of reckless conduct. At the time, Trotter was seeking to succeed outgoing U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., but dropped out of the contest a few weeks after his arrest.

Despite political differences, Trotter was praised by leaders on both sides of the aisle who described him as a calm voice of reason — though he was sometimes left apologizing for his statements.

Angry over health care cuts, Trotter once likened Quinn’s support for Department of Healthcare and Family Services head Julie Hamos to Adolf Hitler’s support for Nazi propaganda chief Joseph Goebbels. Hamos is the daughter of a Holocaust survivor, and Trotter later said his comments were “inappropriate and wrong.”

More recently, Trotter compared Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner to an Islamic State “warrior” after the governor proposed major budget cuts.

Trotter said he “might have made some wrong comments or things that were taken wrongly,” but he was proud of his ability to work with colleagues in both parties to get things done. He lamented an increasingly polarized environment that’s led to gridlock and dysfunction in Springfield.

“Everything begins with a conversation, and I have always tried to be part of a conversation,” he said.

Senate Republican Leader Bill Brady said that “while an aisle may have separated us politically,” he and Trotter “shared a passion to serve the people of Illinois, and to make our state a better place.”

Trotter said he plans to push for policy changes on the national level to expand access to health care and mental health services. He is eligible for annual pension payments of 85 percent of his final legislative salary, which is nearly $88,500.

mcgarcia@chicagotribune.com

Twitter @moniquegarcia

Chicago lawmaker known for budget expertise, bow ties retires

EDITORIAL: It’s up to Illinois lawmakers to protect Obamacare from Trump

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The Trump administration is trying to give millions of Americans yet another terrible deal on health care. Illinois lawmakers can — and should — pass legislation to prevent the president from bringing watered-down health care coverage to this state.

A plan proposed earlier this month by the U.S. Department of Labor would expand the ability of small businesses to band together as groups to buy health insurance. It would help strengthen their bargaining power for pricing and getting a wider selection of plans, the Department of Labor says. Up to 11 million people who work for small businesses or are self-employed could be better off — supposedly.

Those advantages sound great, until you realize a sure-fire way to get cheaper rates is to exclude coverage for prescriptions, hospitalizations and other important services. You know, the kinds of things you buy insurance for. They are benefits Trump wants to drop.

EDITORIAL

Currently, under the Affordable Care Act, health insurance plans have to provide coverage for things like medications and hospital stays. They are part of 10 mandatory essential health benefits that also include maternity and pediatric care. Trump’s plan would let companies exclude those critical benefits.

Illinois Rep. Greg Harris. | Seth Perlman/AP file

The public can weigh in on the Trump administration’s plan at regulations.gov until March 6. We want lawmakers in Illinois to pass legislation that would prevent health care plans in this state from eliminating those basic and vital health services. A bill proposed by state Rep. Greg Harris of Chicago could do that.

Under the ACA Protections bill, a majority of lawmakers in the House and Senate would have to give an OK for officials to work with the federal government to undercut protections for pre-existing conditions and coverage for 10 essential health benefits. Those benefits are for outpatient care; emergency services; hospitalization; mental health; prescription drugs; rehabilitative services; laboratory services; maternity and newborn care; pediatric care; and preventive and wellness services.

Over the years, Illinois has enacted laws to mandate several health care benefits, including maternity care and cancer treatment. The Legislature now should go a step further by making Harris’ bill airtight against the Trump administration’s continued efforts to assail Obamacare.

This latest proposal by the Trump administration could weaken Obamacare by taking healthier people from individual marketplaces to these skimpy small business health plans, also known as association health plans. This could cause premiums to rise for those still covered by Obamacare.

The Department of Labor is emphasizing that, under its proposal, people couldn’t be charged more because they’re sick and they couldn’t be refused because of pre-existing conditions. But premiums could be affected by gender and age. And sick people would be discouraged from applying if the plans don’t cover basic needs.

Scaled-back coverage can be OK for a young, healthy person. But if a life-altering illness hits, the patient gets a rude awakening when he or she learns about the limitations of their health policy.

 

“This plan will indeed likely allow more people to access options for purchasing coverage, which should be a good thing … except that the coverage will almost certainly be substandard, narrow, and result in the ultimate shifting of greater health care costs on to individuals,” Dr. Philip A. Verhoef, assistant professor of medicine and pediatrics at the University of Chicago, told the medical news website Healio.

Just last month, Trump and other Republicans moved toward weakening the Affordable Care Act by no longer requiring people to carry health insurance or pay a fine.

This latest proposal is another step to undermine it. Illinois needs to tell Trump it isn’t welcome here.

Send letters to: letters@suntimes.com

 

EDITORIAL: It’s up to Illinois lawmakers to protect Obamacare from Trump

Illinois’ Democratic candidates for governor pressed on how high they would raise taxes

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Illinois’ Democratic candidates for governor were pressed Friday on how high they would raise taxes. Nearly all of them have said they would push for a graduated income tax, where people and businesses that make more money pay a higher rate.

The six candidates sat before the Chicago Tribune Editorial Board Friday morning, where they were questioned about how high they would make the rates. 

J.B. Pritzker, billionaire and heir to the Hyatt hotel fortunes, wouldn’t commit.

“I haven’t put out a range,” he said. “What I’m suggesting is that we negotiate that with the legislature at the time based upon priorities.”

Chris Kennedy said the top rate of his ideal progressive tax shouldn’t be above six percent.

Southern Illinois candidate Bob Daiber has been the only one to reveal what rates he would like to see Illinoisans pay. His proposal would top out at 6 percent for businesses and individuals making over $1 million. This has been criticized by progressives, saying it wouldn’t raise the funds that they would want to increase state spending.

Perennial candidate Robert Marshall is the only one of the six not supportive of a progressive tax. He said the percentages the candidates say now don’t matter since changing it would only require the minimum legislative votes.

“It doesn’t really do any good to try and get the exact figures,” he said. “They’ll make it whatever they want.”

The candidates also offered solutions to Illinois’ shrinking population. Much of their ideas revolved around increasing spending on education, K-12 and public universities to better the state’s workforce.

Later in the panel discussion, the candidates criticized Pritzker and his involvement in wiretapped phone calls with now-imprisoned ex-governor Rod Blagojevich. Pritzker defended the now-infamous conversation as “public service.” Other candidates criticized him, calling him “unelectable” in a general election.








Illinois’ Democratic candidates for governor pressed on how high they would raise taxes