Winger's Weekly Wrap-up

Health care – Land of Lincoln
Key provider of Obamacare health insurance must liquidate. Land of Lincoln Health, a health care insurance co-operative set up under the terms of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), has defaulted on its payments. The State of Illinois initiated steps on Tuesday, July 12 to wind up the operations of the failing firm and shut it down. 49,000 Illinois residents had purchased mandatory health care insurance through Land of Lincoln, which sold its policies to the individual, individual family, and self-employment markets. They will have to find emergency new coverage before the close of calendar year 2016.

The failure of Land of Lincoln paralleled the failures in other states of Obamacare co-ops, which have been whipsawed by heavy claims rates and mandatory risk adjustment payments. Under the current Affordable Care Act, co-ops are required to pay expensive “risk adjustment payments” to established, private-sector health care insurers such as Blue Cross/Blue Shield. These payments are meant to compensate Blue Cross and other established insurers for the established cost base locked onto these existing insurers by the pre-existing health care conditions of these established firms’ policyholder bases. At the same time, co-ops thought they would be getting federal “risk corridor” payments to compensate them for, among other variables, the cost of the risk adjustment payments. Adequate risk-corridor payments never appeared, however, and the co-ops found that their risk adjustment payments were due in full. They faced a lethal whipsaw. One after another of these co-ops, including Land of Lincoln in Illinois, have gone or are going out of business.

Partly as a result of the ongoing failure of many firms within the ACA co-op industry, increasing numbers of Americans are facing monopoly suppliers of mandatory health care insurance. In whole states, such as Alabama, only one firm will sell insurance to individuals under terms that comply with the myriad requirements and mandates of the Affordable Care Act. In these geographic areas, U.S. citizens are required to comply with the terms and premium rates set by the single supplier.

Children's Car Seat Safety Checkup set for July 20
Car crashes are the leading cause of death for children and according to the National Safety Council, correctly used children's car seats can reduce the risk of death by as much as 71%. Unfortunately, nearly 73% of car seats are not installed correctly.

Before properly installing the car seat, parents must first make sure the car seat they selected is appropriate for their child. Choosing the right car seat is complicated at best. Infant, convertible, booster, rear-facing, front-facing: Which is correct for a child's age and weight? When are they ready for a seat belt? These are some of the questions technicians from the National Safety Council will answer at their "Child Car Seat Checkup." They will also teach parents and grandparents how to properly install a car seat, and correctly use booster seats and seat belts.

The National Safety Council Car Seat Checkup will be held from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Wednesday, July 20, 2016, at NSC headquarters, 1121 Spring Lake Drive, Itasca, IL.

You must reserve a checkup time and be sure to bring the car seat your child uses to the appointment.

Education – Common Core Testing
Significant move away from Common Core Testing. State law requires Illinois public high schools to use a standardized test to evaluate their students’ readiness for college. Until now, the test used has been the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC), a test developed in compliance with nationwide Common Core guidelines and standards. PARCC tests were administered to Illinois high school students in spring 2015 and again in spring 2016.

Questions were raised about the performance of Illinois high schools and school districts in enabling their students to meet PARCC guidelines. Many school districts reported that the protocols used to prepare for and administer the PARCC tests were highly technical, cumbersome and resistant to full compliance. They further reported that PARCC preparation and testing interfered with other tests that school districts wanted or needed to administer as an expression of their autonomy and the challenges faced by their pupils, such as AP tests and traditional college entrance exams.

The State Board of Education announced on Monday, July 11 that they would not supervise the administration of a high school PARCC test in spring 2017 or following spring terms. Instead, the State will subsidize and supervise the administration of a statewide SAT college entrance exam in spring 2017. Students in 11th grade will take the SAT. The SAT is administered according to an established nationwide protocol and its results are published in numbers that are relatively accessible and familiar to students and educators. SAT tests will be administered in compliance with the State law evaluating high school student body performance and progress. Students in grades 3 through 8 will continue to take separate PARCC tests geared to their age groups.

Education – School funding formula
Gov. Bruce Rauner establishes School Funding Commission; House Republican Leader Jim Durkin announces names of five panel members. The 25-member bipartisan commission established by Gov. Rauner will study Illinois’ school funding formula, the law used to divide up and distribute Illinois school aid money into payments made to individual Illinois school districts. Illinois’ 863 school districts, the local units of governance that operate public elementary and secondary schools, depend on biweekly school aid payments to keep their doors open.

Increasing concerns about the school aid formula contained in the current School Code has spurred the creation of this commission. The five House Republican members of the bipartisan commission are Representatives Avery Bourne, Sheri Jesiel, Dwight Kay, Bob Pritchard, and Christine Winger. The school funding formula last saw major structural changes in 1997, although the overall distribution of money to Illinois schools has been repeatedly ‘tweaked’ and modified since. The Illinois School Funding Reform Commission has been asked to report its findings to the Illinois General Assembly by February 1, 2017.

Energy – motor fuel
Sharp decline in price of Illinois motor fuel. The essential commodity has been falling in price since mid-June. In Illinois, the price of gasohol – the most-commonly-used motor fuel – declined seven cents in the week leading up to the July 10-16 driving period. The price pattern contradicted established U.S. pricing moves in which motor fuel typically spikes or soars in value in summer months.

Despite the good news, motor fuel price monitor GasBuddy continued to warn Illinois motorists that Illinois motor fuel is priced higher than the pump values charged in several states that border Illinois. Missouri motor fuel was a particularly good value this week, with the Show Me state benefitting from access to both shale oil from Western states and conventional crude oil pumped outside the U.S. Much of the oil burned in Illinois, Missouri, and other Midwest states is produced abroad or from the Gulf of Mexico, and brought up the Mississippi River by tanker barge.

Housing – refinancing initiative
New I-Refi program from IHDA will help some under-water homeowners. The program, from the Illinois Housing Development Authority (IHDA), is aimed at homeowners who owe more on their mortgages than the home itself is worth. Called “underwater mortgages,” these financial instruments are the targets of the initiative. Eligible homeowners, starting August 1, will be invited to apply for admission to the “Hardest Hit” program. Residents and families helped by the program could see a reduction in the amount of unpaid equity remaining on their mortgages. A mortgage financing data tracker, CoreLogic, reports that approximately 14% of all Illinois home mortgages are currently underwater.

The Illinois program is being backed by $45.7 million in U.S. Treasury funding. It is projected that 1,800 homeowner applicants will successfully apply for admission to the program and will get debt-reduction assistance of approximately $25,000 per home. Applicants to the program, which is targeted towards modest and middle-class home in challenged geographic areas, will be granted a maximum of $50,000 in debt-reduction assistance. The assistance will be credited towards the debt owed on a new, private-sector 30-year mortgage. A list of 25 participating mortgage-finance lenders has been mobilized by IHDA. These firms will refinance the homes of participating mortgagors at market rates.

To qualify, applicants must owe at least 10% more than the value of their home, up to $50,000. Despite being under water, they must have been current on making mortgage payments for at least the past 12 months; and must live in the home. Household income eligibility is determined by a sliding scale keyed towards the number of persons in the household and the geographic location of the household. The maximum purchase price of the home is also one of the variables used to gauge overall potential eligibility for admission to the program.

Jobs – Illinois Job Link
State of Illinois completes rollout of new job opportunity for unemployed Illinoisans. Illinois Job Link is a resume’-posting platform operated by the Department of Employment Security (IDES) that is open to persons seeking employment in Illinois. Under a new policy going into effect on Sunday, July 17, persons filing for Illinois unemployment benefits after being laid off are going to be asked to fill out and post their resumes on Illinois Job Link as a condition of completing their application for benefits.

The Department is aware that some of the people who need to file for benefits will have some questions about how to complete the JobLink process and complete a resume. The JobLink home page can be found HERE. In past years, nearly 60% of Illinois unemployment benefit filings did not include a work history or resume, despite the importance of these documents to potential employers. IDES believes that linking JobLink resume filing with unemployment benefits will speed up the hiring of unemployed persons who may have work experience and credentials of which they are not fully aware, and will reduce unemployment by increasing publicly posted information about the Illinois residents who are motivated to find a job.

Summer in Illinois – Springfield sights
State reopens key historic sites to everyday access. Due to staff changes, visitors will soon be able to see Lincoln’s New Salem, the Dana-Thomas House, and the Old State Capitol seven days a week. Previous closures on days such as Monday and Tuesday disappointed some visitors who had come to the Springfield area to see major historic sights connected with Abraham Lincoln and architect Frank Lloyd Wright.

The seven-day-a-week announcement was made by the operator of the sites, the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency. Donations are requested from the public at each site. The Dana-Thomas House and the Old State Capitol moved to seven-days-a-week access on the week of July 11, and New Salem will move to seven-days-a-week on the week of July 18.

Lincoln’s New Salem is the reconstructed frontier village where future president Abraham Lincoln began his life in Illinois. The Old State Capitol contains the old Illinois House Chamber where he served as a legislator and where he later delivered his “House Divided” speech of 1858 that won national press coverage and attention. With Lincoln’s Home (a federal historic site), and the Lincoln Museum and Library and the Lincoln Tomb (two State sites that have continued on seven-days-a-week operation during the recent slowdown), these sites form the centerpiece of a pilgrimage to Mr. Lincoln’s Springfield.