Senate Week in Review: September 30-October 4
Enrollment got underway – with some stumbles – in Illinois and across the nation for the federal Affordable Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare, on Oct. 1.
With the roll out, State Senator Sue Rezin (R-Morris) is cautioning constituents to be on alert for scam artists, as law enforcement and consumer advocates warn that confusion over the massive federal healthcare program is likely to bring out identity thieves and other cons.
The first days after the launch were marked by overloaded web sites, technical glitches and limited access to in-person counselors in some areas.
In addition, the launch has highlighted concerns that the new program could have unintended consequences, particularly for part-time workers, who could see cuts in work hours.
Open enrollment is scheduled to run until April 1, but in order to qualify for health insurance coverage when the program actually starts on Jan. 1, persons must be enrolled by Dec. 15.
Sen. Rezin is also reminding constituents that October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month and that it’s also the start of flu season. Finally, a recent report shows that Illinois leads the nation in the number of local units of government with nearly 7,000, or one unit of local government for every 1,800 residents.
Rezin to host a free District-Wide Recycling Day October 5
Sen. Rezin is sponsoring a Recycling Day on Saturday, October 5 from 9:00 a.m. to noon in Ottawa where residents will be able to bring unwanted items to recycle.
The event is co-sponsored with Mayor Robert Eschbach and will be at the Woodward Memorial Parking Lot located at 300 Woodward Memorial Drive, Ottawa.
Most electronics may be recycled, including televisions, monitors, computers, VCRs, radios, tape players, fax machines and telephones. Automobile batteries can also be recycled. A partial list of items that cannot be accepted includes anything containing mercury, light bulbs, hazardous materials, paint, household batteries, liquid or chemical waste, fuel, oil, paper, cloth and any monitor or television with a cracked or broken screen.
For a full list of acceptable and unacceptable items plus more information, click here.
Rezin to serve on “fracking” task force
Sen. Rezin said she has been appointed to serve on the Task Force on Hydraulic Fracturing Regulation. The establishment of the task force was included in the hydraulic fracturing legislation with the purpose to examine if further changes are needed to the law.
Senate Bill 1715, which created regulation for hydraulic fracturing in Illinois, became law on June 17, 2013. This landmark measure has been identified as a likely model for regulating horizontal hydraulic fracturing.
Hydraulic fracturing, also known as "fracking," is a drilling process in which drillers spray high pressurized sand and liquid formulas into the well to break into the rock formations. Hydraulic fracturing has been used for years, but because of new technology this method is becoming more popular in the United States. This method is directly leading to record low natural gas prices and is causing a drilling boom in some western states, particularly North Dakota.
The regulations contained in Senate Bill 1715 were adopted after extensive negotiations between environmental groups and the energy industry. Due to the nature of the legislation, the task force will monitor the regulations and evaluate whether changes and modifications need to be made to the law in order to appease both environmental groups and the energy industry.
Affordable Care Act Enrollment Begins
A key foundation of the Affordable Care Act was the Oct. 1 launch of health insurance exchanges, which are designed to be one-stop health insurance “malls” where qualified individuals and small employers can purchase insurance.
Applications can be made online, by mail, over the phone or in person with Illinois Department of Insurance trained advisors. The two major websites for the program are the state-sponsored http://getcoveredillinois.gov and the federal https://www.healthcare.gov.
What is offered on the Exchange?
More than 160 Qualified Health Plans (QHP) are expected to be offered by eight insurers through the exchange. Four levels of coverage will be offered from a basic “Bronze” plan to an extensive “Platinum” plan.
Individual Coverage Mandate Penalties
Beginning in 2014, individuals who do not have “qualifying coverage” must purchase insurance or face a penalty assessed through the IRS in the same manner as a tax penalty would be collected. (During the Federal Budget Debate, which has resulted in a temporary shutdown of much of the Federal Government, Congressional Republicans proposed delaying the Individual Mandate for one year.) Americans must buy/obtain “qualifying coverage” through a public program, state exchange, employer-based plan or individual market.
Health Care Launch Could Bring Out Scam Artists
Consumer advocates and law enforcement officials across the nation are cautioning consumers to be aware of one likely side effect of the launch of the Affordable Care Act – a spike in scam artists and identity theft.
Advocates warn consumers to be extremely cautious about sharing personal information, especially social security numbers, with anyone they don’t know.
The government will not be calling or sending emails, so consumers that receive such contacts should be wary and never share personal information over the phone.
There is no application fee or charge for assistance in choosing a plan. Beware of anyone attempting to sell such services.
Although pre-enrollment began Oct. 1, there is no urgency to sign up for a plan. Consumers who wish to be covered as of Jan. 1 have until Dec. 15 to sign up. Take time to study your options and don’t feel pressured to agree to any plan.
Workers Fear Cuts in Hours under Obamacare
One of the unintended consequences of the new Federal Affordable Care Act (also known as Obamacare) is that some workers – especially those in service and retail jobs – may see their hours cut as employers seek to keep insurance costs down.
To track the issue, the business news site, Investors.com is keeping a running list of employers that have reduced work hours or cut jobs as a direct result of Obamacare. As of Sept. 30, they had a verified list of 313 employers.
A number of media outlets have carried stories, including Fox Business online and the British newspaper, the Guardian. The Fox Business story reported, “The list of companies moving to cut hours for part-time workers continues to grow, as employers look to keep staffers below the 30-hour threshold set by the Affordable Care Act.”
In additional to cuts in hours, concerns have also been raised that employers that now offer low-cost insurance plans for part-time workers may instead shift those workers to the state insurance exchanges.
Breast Cancer Awareness Month Underway
October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, which strives to educate the general public on the disease, increase awareness in society, and provide greater access to services.
For more than 25 years NBCAM has been on the frontlines of raising awareness about breast cancer. While great progress has been made in the early detection and treatment of breast cancer, much work remains to be done.
Among the sponsors of NBCAM is Susan G. Komen for the Cure, which came about as the result of a promise Nancy G. Brinker made to her dying sister, Susan G. Komen, of Peoria, that she would do all within her power to make breast cancer a thing of the past.
While October is officially dedicated Breast Cancer Awareness Month, women need to be proactive year round with regular checkups, and by educating themselves about the latest developments in the fight against breast cancer.
Time for Flu Shots
When the leaves start falling, health experts say that's the time to get a flu shot.
According to the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta, the flu season starts in October and is at its peak in the months of December through February. They advise getting a flu shot in October. The CDC estimates 200,000 people are hospitalized for flu-related complications each year.
The influenza vaccine is provided through local health departments and private health care providers in the state.
For more information on the flu, visit the Illinois Department of Public Health Web site: http://www.idph.state.il.us/flu/index.htm.
Illinois Tops in Number of Local Governments
According to the US Census of Governments, and as recently reported by USA Today, Illinois may have a long way to go before it can get its spider web of government bodies under control.
Illinois has the most local units of government, more than any other state at 6,963, according to the national newspaper, which was reporting on information gathered by Stateline, a publication of the Pew Center on the States. That is more than 7% of all local units of government in the United States and it represents one unit of local government for about every 1,800 Illinois residents.
Illinois’ nearly 7,000 local units of government will receive more than $1 billion in tax dollars in the current fiscal year from state government alone. That doesn’t count the taxes imposed and collected locally.
Lawmakers Encourage Consolidation
The General Assembly took a small but potentially important step this spring to address the issue of government consolidation when it passed and the Governor signed into law Senate Bill 494.
The measure allows DuPage County to propose, by ordinance, the dissolution and consolidation of its local units of government. It contains a provision providing for voter approval. The legislation was a bipartisan effort of Republicans and Democrats to ultimately put into the hands of local voters the kind of government that best suits their needs.