Illinois Medicare, Medicaid costs rising

The news: The funding and use of Medicare and Medicaid have been a divisive issue during the 2012 presidential debates.Behind the news: According to the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, public spending on medical programs—such as Medicare and the Children’s Health Insurance Program—increased 89 percent in Illinois since welfare reform in 1994, averaging $3,143 per person in 2010, the latest year for which the data are available. The medical programs’ expenses amounted to 43 percent of spending made on all federal benefit programs in the state.Nationally, per-capita public spending on medical programs has increased at a slower rate than Illinois, growing by 75 percent between 1994 and 2010, from $1,842 to $3,239.Public spending on medical programs has increased because of the rising cost of health care and an aging population in Illinois, said Anne Marie Murphy, who served as the Illinois Medicaid director for the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services until 2006.Medicare and Medicaid costs alone grew 133.8 percent and 100.2 percent, respectively, since 2000 according to The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. And so have the number of Illinois residents who receive medical benefits from the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services. Between fiscal years 2006 and 2011, it increased by 34 percent to about 2.7 million.“This rise is generally due to a poor economy where many have lost jobs, lost income, employers have dropped health insurance coverage and so many more qualify for Illinois Medicaid,” said Murphy, who is now the executive director of Metropolitan Chicago Breast Cancer Task Force.

Illinois unions fight continuing decline in ranks

The news: In September, the Chicago Teachers Union called a strike for the first time in 25 years, bringing renewed attention to organized labor in Illinois.Behind the news: During the past decade, Illinois lost the third highest number of union members in the country, behind Michigan and Ohio, from 1,013,000 in 2001 to 876,000 in 2011, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. But, proportionally, the state’s 13.5 percent drop in union membership ranked in the middle of the pack nationally: 21 out of the 50 states and Washington, D.C.—well behind states such as Louisiana and Tennessee that lost more than 40 percent of union members.Unionized workers accounted for 16.2 percent of the state’s workforce in 2011, a drop from 18.1 percent in 2001. The 1.9 percentage point drop was slightly above the nationwide median of 1.4 percentage points, ranking as the 18th highest.Union membership in Illinois has suffered from the migration of traditionally union-heavy industries like manufacturing to other states or overseas, said Monica Bielski Boris, assistant professor at the School of Labor and Employment Relations at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.Boris added that the contraction of the state’s heavily unionized public sector has also had an impact on the union membership in Illinois.“It is true that the public sector has been hurting in Illinois like around the country, but in Illinois … we have serious financial trouble,” she said. “The only state with a worse credit rating is California, and a lot of that has to do with the state not properly funding pension obligations.”