Welcome to the Illinois Health Matters Blog

What health reform means for the people of Illinois

A blog by IllinoisHealthMatters.org

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Happy 2nd Birthday IHM!

Two years ago, on February 1st, 2011, Illinois Health Matters was created to be a source for straight-forward, factual info on the progress of health care reform in Illinois. Before we head into our 3rd year, here are some highlights from the past year:

Affordable Care Act (ACA) implementation moved forward:
As a communication tool, Illinois Health Matters hit some major milestones:

We released our first interactive data tool last year—the Visualizing Reform map, which displays the impact of the ACA on communities in IL, and made a big impression on policymakers, advocacy groups and health professionals from all across the nation. It also placed second in the Civic Data Challenge!

In October, IHM participated in the Escape Fire movie premiere, hosted by our parent organization, Health & Disability Advocates. The premiere was a fundraising success, the movie was impactful and informative, and we had a great time seeing many of our Chicago-area supporters and collaborators.

IHM content has reached close to 20,000 people (many of whom use it on an ongoing basis) and this blog has reached almost 33,000 more. With 2014 as a pivotal year for the Affordable Care Act implementation, we have more exciting, groundbreaking and informative plans in store for the next 12 months.

In lieu of birthday gifts, please sign up for our monthly e-newsletter or connect with us via Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIN.

Illinois Health Matters Staff

Friday, January 25, 2013

Illinois Essential Health Benefits Benchmark Plan

The State of Illinois has selected its Essential Health Benefits benchmark plan - the Blue Cross Blue Shield of Illinois BlueAdvantage Entrepreneur plan.

This plan sets the bar for 10 categories of health care benefits (called "Essential Health Benefits" by the Affordable Care Act), and all non-grandfathered individual and small group health plans sold in Illinois must measure up to this plan in "actuarial value." Actuarial value is an estimate of the overall financial protection provided by a health plan. (For a great explanation of Actuarial Value, check out this recent Consumers' Union report).

The Blue Cross Blue Shield of Illinois BlueAdvantage Entrepreneur plan is the largest small group plan in Illinois, making it the default plan if Illinois failed to select a plan, as stated in the Affordable Care Act. According to this Illinois Department of Insurance report, the plan was the third leanest plan out of the 10 options considered. It is a PPO and it covers all of the services that Illinois law mandates, such as treatment for autism and infertility. But it doesn't cover extra services such as massage or acupuncture. The plan is supplemented by All Kids for pediatric dental and the Federal Vision Insurance Plan for children’s vision.

We have been following the establishment of an EHB benchmark in the state closely; you can read up on the EHB selection process in Illinois here and here.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Illinois Medicaid Redetermination -- What It is & What To Tell Your Clients

In 2012, the Illinois Legislature passed the Save Medicaid and Resources Together (SMART) Act. One portion of this Act aimed to address the backlog of Medicaid redeterminations that has accumulated over the years. From this Act came the 'Illinois Medicaid Redetermination Project' (ILRP), more informally known as "Enhanced Eligibility Verification" (EEV).

The goal of EEV is to determine the eligibility status of current Medicaid recipients and adjust or eliminate benefits accordingly. This will be the system that redetermines Medicaid eligibility annually for current and newly enrolled recipients. The circumstances under which individuals may be removed from Medicaid include death, relocation out of state, or excess income, amongst many others.

The State has contracted with MAXIMUS Health Services Inc. and developed a case review system that categorizes Medicaid cases as those most likely eligible and those potentially ineligible for medical services. To this end, MAXIMUS has begun its operation and as early as this week will be reaching out to current Medicaid recipients who they believe are no longer eligible for Medicaid benefits.

As early as this week, these enrollees will receive a letter in the mail from the Illinois Medicaid Redetermination Project requesting they submit the appropriate eligibility verification documents.


  • The envelope that the redetermination letter will arrive in is non-descript with nothing distinguishing it from junk mail. Advocates have made HFS aware of this issue and they have said they will be changing it.
  • Current Medicaid enrollees will have only 10 business days to submit the proper eligibility verifying documents.
Once Medicaid enrollees submit the necessary verifying information, the file will be sent back to their case manager in the local office. At this time, the case manager will have 20 days to review the information provided and make a determination of eligibility. To be clear, MAXIMUS will not make final decisions related to Medicaid eligibility, but will collect all necessary and relevant information for the Department of Human Services who will use that to make a final decision.

If Medicaid enrollees fail to provide the proper documentation after receiving a letter of notice in the mail, their file will also be sent back to a case manager and their benefits likely eliminated. Although the state has implemented a new system to redetermine Medicaid eligibility, the appeal rights of applicants remains intact.

As Medicaid enrollees will only have 10 business days to submit the required verifying documentation, it's extremely important that advocates and providers provide support to their participants who receive Medicaid benefits that may need to submit such additional documents. With such a short turn-around time and in order to ensure continuity of care, it's imperative that Medicaid enrollees understand what they must provide and submit that information within the allotted time frame.

Contact information for the Illinois Medicaid Redetermination Project can be found below and summary of the program can be found here.

Illinois Medicaid Redetermination Program Hotline Information
Hours of Operation: Monday - Friday, 7:00 am - 9:00 pm, Central Time
Saturday, 8:00 am - 1:00 pm, Central Time
Phone Number: 1-855-HLTHYIL (1-855-458-4945)
TTY: 1-855-694-5458

Mailing Address: Illinois Medicaid Redetermination, PO Box 1242, Chicago, IL 60690-9992
FAX: 1-855-394-8066

Nadeen Israel & Molly McAndrew
Heartland Alliance for Human Needs & Human Rights

Friday, January 18, 2013

What is the Illinois Partnership Health Insurance Marketplace?

The Affordable Care Act requires each state to have a health insurance marketplace (otherwise known as a "health insurance exchange"). Originally, the plan was for each state to establish its own health insurance marketplace, or default to a federally-run exchange. After the ACA passed, the federal government offered a new “partnership exchange” model, which is to relieve some of the administrative burden on the state by providing federal assistance. Illinois sent the federal government a blueprint application in November 2012 to establish a state-federal partnership exchange in 2014, with plan to transition to a state based exchange after 2015. The state is waiting for final approval of the blueprint.

On January 3, 2013, the federal Center for Consumer Information and Insurance Oversight sent out guidance on how a partnership health insurance exchange will work. The guidance allows states like Illinois who plan to transition to a state based exchange to take on as much responsibility as possible for exchange activities such as administration, plan selection, and consumer assistance. This model is referred to as a State Plan Management Partnership Exchange.

A key role of a state exchange is to provide consumers assistance in enrolling in the exchange, understand their options for insurance coverage, make decisions about coverage, and coordinate with community based organizations. This consumer help will be provided by two programs, In-Person Assisters (IPA) and Navigators, which will be separate but closely coordinated. The Navigator program will be run by the Federal government, and Illinois will develop the IPA program. Since Illinois has historic connections in the community and their understanding of the state-specific insurance, Medicaid and supplemental state health programs, the IPA program will be the primary contact for consumers and for insurance companies.

Community Based Organizations, consumer assistance organizations, medical and social service providers will all play an important role in ensuring that the Illinois state federal partnership exchange is efficient and accessible. Consumer advocates should work cooperatively with the state and federal governments to ensure that whichever agencies are responsible for administering parts of the exchange, that the end result is a coordinated system that works well for the people who need insurance coverage, including the small employers who need to purchase insurance for their employees.

Stephanie Altman
Programs & Policy Director
Health & Disability Advocates

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

A New Year and New Medicaid Awaits Us

What an amazing and historic beginning to the start of 2013. This week an Illinois legislative body advanced a major piece of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), when the House Human Services Appropriation Committee passed HB 6253, Medicaid Financing for the Uninsured.

After the committee vote, the waning hours of the current term of the General Assembly did not provide enough time to advance the bill further. Nevertheless, our momentum continues with renewed commitment and excitement.

This effort brought together an unusual mixture of health care providers, business interests, patients and advocates, demonstrating as great a degree of consensus on an issue like this as you are likely ever to find. We know it is right and advantageous for Illinois to accept new federal Medicaid funding, fill a historic gap in the Medicaid program and provide health care coverage for hundreds of thousands of the lowest income uninsured Illinois residents.

The fight continues and we have laid the scaffolding for us to build upon as we enter the 98th General Assembly today. Illinois House and Senate members will file new Medicaid bills, and once the new General Assembly begins, your voices will need to be heard again with in-district meetings, emails and phone calls to your Senators and Representatives, many of whom will be new in office or serving from redrawn districts. It will be critical that these legislators hear from you.

Thank you for all you have done. And thank you, in advance, for all the help you will provide in helping to achieve federal Medicaid funding for the uninsured in Illinois.

Ramon Gardenhire
Director of Government Relations
AIDS Foundation of Chicago

Monday, January 7, 2013

Start Your Week Right! Contact Springfield Today.

Leveraging Federal Financing for the Uninsured (HB 6253) Reaches the Illinois House THIS WEEK
This week (and possibly TODAY)  the Illinois House will consider HB 6253 House Amendment 1 (HA 1), a bill to leverage federal financing of the state’s Medicaid program in 2014 to cover the uninsured, made eligible by the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

In Illinois today, thousands of low-income adults without dependent children are not eligible for Medicaid. This major gap in healthcare coverage would be eliminated by HB 6253 under the ACA. This Medicaid option is expected to bring $4.6 billion additional federal dollars into the state of Illinois just in the first three years, making it a great fiscal deal for Illinois!

HB 6253 authorizes Illinois to take advantage of the ACA to provide Medicaid to about 342,000 low-income Illinois citizens who are currently uninsured. Because of the ACA, Illinois can offer Medicaid to this population at no expense to the state for the first three years, and in later years the state will never pay more than 10% of the cost of this coverage (with federal funds covering the remaining 90%). Learn more about HB 6253 HA1.

2 Ways to Take Action TODAY:

  1. Tell your Illinois Representative to support HB 6253 today! Call the easy and toll-free ‘Illinois Affordable Health Care Hotline’ 1-888-616-3322 to be connected to your legislator. Need some talking points? Click here.  You can also look up your Illinois Representative’s contact information directly using this easy online tool!  Click here.
  2. Submit an electronic witness slip in favor of the bill: You can click here to file an electronic witness slip today.  Click on the icon on the right of the Appropriations committee to find the listing for HB 6253. Once you find HB 6253, click on “Create Witness Slip.” You should check the “proponent” box for House Amendment #1 (HA #1) and the “Record of Appearance Only” box.

*The 'Illinois Affordable Health Care Hotline’ is a function of the AARP Hotline. Please, do not be alarmed by the AARP phone recording. This phone line is open to everyone.
*The original House bill number (HB 5019) has changed since the recording of the Hotline to HB 6253, and may change again! Please, do not be alarmed by the incorrect bill number. This phone line is still active to support 'Medicaid Financing for the Uninsured'.

Thank you!

Questions? Contact Stephani Becker (312.265.9072) or Stephanie Altman (312.265.9070) at HDA.