Rezin’s Report: October 20-24th

A federal judge sided with a longtime anti-patronage crusader, ruling that hiring practices at the state’s Department of Transportation have been so corrupted by political influence under Governor Pat Quinn and his predecessor that a federal monitor is now needed, said State Senator Sue Rezin (R-Peru).

U.S. Magistrate Judge Sidney Schenkier ruled Oct. 22 that a hiring monitor must be appointed to ensure compliance with anti-patronage rules.

The request for federal intervention came from Michael Shakman, a longtime crusader against political hiring. Shakman is best known for a series of court orders issued in 1972, 1979 and 1983 that bear his name, the Shakman Decrees.

Shakman sought the hiring monitor, arguing that the Quinn administration as well as the Blagojevich administration, filled positions based on political ties, rather than job qualifications. A report by the state’s Executive Inspector General later confirmed much of what Shakman claimed.

Quinn boosted political hiring

Political hiring has soared under Quinn. In 2011 alone, his administration placed 104 persons in staff assistant positions exempt from anti-patronage rules. That is double the peak number hired under now-imprisoned former Governor Rod Blagojevich. In all, more than 60% of those hired illegally were hired under Quinn.

Quinn had initially sought to lay the blame on former state Transportation Secretary Ann Schneider, who he forced to resign.

But, in August, Schneider said she and her staff received hiring recommendations directly from the Governor’s office and had to submit requests to approve hiring in the disputed positions to the Governor’s office.

Medicare open enrollment begins

It’s once again time for Medicare participants to consider changes to their healthcare plans. The annual open enrollment period for Medicare Advantage and “Part D” prescription plans is now underway.

Also fast approaching is the open enrollment period for Marketplace insurance coverage under the federal Affordable Care Act (ACA), which is also commonly known as Obamacare.

Although both programs are federal, state legislators often receive questions during the enrollment periods and work to link constituents with the appropriate program administrators.

There is some good news for Illinois residents participating in the Part D prescription drug benefit – average premiums are lower than surrounding states and the number of plans to choose from is higher than any other state in the nation.

Medicare-eligible persons have until Dec. 7 to enroll or modify their drug benefit (Part D) coverage or their Medicare Advantage plan – which offers an alternative to regular Medicare coverage through Health Maintenance Organizations (HMOs) or Preferred Provider Organizations (PPOs).

Persons receiving health insurance under an Affordable Care Act (ACA) Marketplace Plan must either renew their coverage or choose a new plan during the open enrollment period which runs from Nov. 15 to Feb. 15. Those who fail to enroll in health insurance by the end of the ACA enrollment period face an increased penalty next year – the higher of 2% of income, or $325 per adult and $162.50 per child.

Report looks at Medicare options

In conjunction with the Medicare open enrollment period, the Kaiser Family Foundation has issued two reports analyzing key market changes in Medicare Advantage and Medicare Part D prescription drug programs.

Although Illinois will see the highest premium increase in the nation – 9.4%.  – the average premium of $35.99 will still be lower than any surrounding state and lower than the U.S. average. Across the Midwest and Great Plains, only Ohio has a lower average premium of $34.94.

There will be five fewer prescription drug plans available in Illinois in 2015, as compared to 2014. The number of plans available in Illinois peaked in 2007 at 56. Still, the 33 plans available to Illinois residents in 2015 will be the most available in any state.

In the case of Medicare Advantage, the Kaiser study says the number of available plans is likely to shrink by 3%, but that will still leave 1,945 plans available in 2015. But, in Illinois the number of available plans will actually go up. In 2014, there were 66 plans available. Of that total, 15 are expected to leave the state, but another 17 will enter the Illinois market.

Regional Superintendents: We can help

Local school districts are facing curriculum and testing changes that put teachers and students under added pressure to meet new goals and Illinois’ regional superintendents want local school districts to know they can help them meet these new challenges at no cost to the local schools.

The Illinois Association of Regional Superintendents are offering new “Foundational Services” to school districts focusing on five key areas. These new services use federal funds formerly targeted to the No Child Left Behind initiative.

While much attention has been focused on the controversial “Common Core” standards, there are other new learning standards, assessment tests and student performance requirements that schools and teachers must also meet.

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