Tag Archives: Illinois

Documents yield true cost of Illinois’ PR campaign for insurance coverage

Carla K. Johnson

Carla K. Johnson

When Illinois awarded a $33 million contract to a high-priced PR firm to promote insurance coverage under the Affordable Care Act, Carla Johnson began filing open records requests under the state’s Freedom of Information law.

Eventually Johnson, a medical writer for The Associated Press, filed 10 FOIA requests while reporting on how public money was spent to promote the health law.

She says the “88-page contract, obtained through a records request, contained clues about other existing documents, such as monthly detailed explanations of invoices and a ‘work plan’ required by the contract.” She continued filing requests until she had enough documentation to detect some trends.

Read more about how Johnson reported the story, what she learned and tips for other reporters.

Americans unprepared to pay for long-term care

In the Chicago Tribune, Deborah Shelton examines how unprepared Americans are to pay for their own long-term care needs as they age. Long-term care tends to slip under the radar because, as one of Shelton’s sources told her, “People buy insurance for their life because they know they are going to die, for their car because they know that can get in an accident and for their health because they know they can get sick, but people don’t tend to buy insurance because they think they are going to need someone to help them take a bath.”

faces-of-aging-largeLong-term care encompasses everything from nursing home fees to in-home assistance with everyday routines. It all comes with a price tag; Medicare only covers a limited amount and Medicaid programs apply only to those below certain economic thresholds. That leaves the middle class, who can’t afford the services but don’t really qualify for Medicaid, in the lurch, Shelton writes.

Most people assume Medicare will pay the bills, but the program covers long-term care only under certain conditions and for a limited time. While Medicaid covers long-term care, beneficiaries have to be poor or willing to “spend down” their assets to be eligible. Private insurance can be expensive and excludes applicants with serious medical problems.

As a result, many families pay out of pocket until they exhaust their resources and then turn to Medicaid.

The Affordable Care Act attempted to fill in the blanks, but long-term care provisions of that reform plan withered under intense cost pressure.

An initiative that would have incorporated long-term care into the Obama administration’s health reform plan was scrapped in October after actuaries determined that it would not be financially self-sustainable over the long haul. The Community Living Assistance Services and Supports Act would have created a voluntary, self-funded, employer-based insurance option to help people save for long-term care.


Cash-strapped Ill. goes after hospitals’ nonprofit status

A New York Times article written by Bruce Japsen, an independent journalist writing for the Chicago News Co-Op, digs into Illinois’ recent challenges to the tax exemptions granted to a trio of prominent hospitals by virtue of their nonprofit status. The challenge, inspired in part by the state supreme court’s willingness to uphold the revocation of the nonprofit status of an Catholic hospital in Urbana last year, could expand to more than a dozen other institutions as the state scrambles to cover a looming revenue shortfall.

In its case, the state alleges that the hospitals aren’t providing a high enough proportion of charity care to fulfill the mission of a nonprofit.

All three of the hospitals the state is focusing on provided free and discounted medical care that ranged from 0.96 percent to 1.85 percent of patient-care revenue, according to the revenue department. The state also said that each one had been operating as a “for profit” business when the state’s Constitution says that “only charities are entitled to a tax exemption.”

The hospitals, for their part, point to the other benefits they provide the community, such as neonatal intensive care and burn units, that don’t always bolster their bottom lines. Advocates answer that paying taxes provides a community benefit as well, one that can readily be measured in dollars and cents. And Japsen found that paying those taxes doesn’t even seem to preclude the provision of charity care, especially at the parsimonious levels provided by the hospitals currently targeted by the state.

“The relative amounts of charity care provided by not-for-profit tax-exempts are not materially different from the amount provided by for-profit hospitals,” said Jim Unland, a longtime analyst of Illinois’ health care industry and president of the Health Capital Group, a consulting firm in Chicago. “This raises the issue of whether the tax-exempts are getting prejudicially favorable treatment.”

The three hospitals whose tax exemptions have been stripped by the state department of revenue plan to challenge the action in court, and state hospital organizations are gearing up for a lobbying push they hope will put their tax status on firmer ground.

St. Louis reporters find felons practicing medicine

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch‘s Blythe Bernhard and Jeremy Kohler tell the story of an ophthalmologist to show how a convicted felon can be allowed to return to medical practice, sometimes in the same state in which he or she was convicted. The ophthalmologist in question went to prison after lying to patients, defrauding Medicare and obstructing the resulting investigation, yet now works in an Illinois clinic and has permission to reapply for his Missouri license.

The investigation is strengthened by two sidebars, one listing examples of other felons/physicians and the other explaining how and why an ophthalmologist lied to patients and Medicare about what he was injecting into their eyes.

For the record, my favorite sentence in the entire piece is “Medical boards don’t release statistics on how many active licensees are convicted felons.” It certainly would make things easier.

Earlier stories from Bernhard and Kohler document similar problems with a lack of openness of records and how disciplined doctors can still keep their records clean:

AHCJ members can read about how the pair have done much of the reporting on this ongoing project.

Community-led effort sparks public health wave

Writing in The New York Times, Jessica Reaves writes about how a 2000-06 Chicago community survey embodies the block-by-block, community-reliant approach to public health that it helped inspire.

In the heavily Puerto Rican Humboldt Park neighborhood, researchers worked with community leaders to write study questions, then relied on community members to conduct the actual survey. From these roots, the level of community participation snowballed, and locals demonstrated an interest and investment in public health that researchers hasn’t seen before. Today, initiatives born out of that study still provide residents with access to fresh produce, free diabetes screenings, fitness classes and more.

Now, researchers are further localizing and intensifying their effort with a block-by-block approach. The Humboldt Park model has become one that others are working to replicate across the country.

The specifics of the Sinai approach (In Humboldt Park) — change-oriented and invested in the fate of a neighborhood — are distinctive, but they also reflect a sea change in the overall strategy of public health professionals, said Janine Lewis, executive director of the Illinois Maternal and Child Health Coalition, a nonprofit advocacy organization in Chicago.

“I think the field is becoming more responsive to the idea of community-based participatory research,” Ms. Lewis said. “Those of us in the field realize that community members are experts on the needs and gifts in their communities, and should be consulted” at every phase of research.

This approach, she added, not only helps investigators devise more meaningful questions, but also means residents feel a part of the process and motivated by the results.