Problems at IDES; Looking for answers on retiree health insurance

IDES audit reveals series of deficiencies

The Illinois Department of Employment Security (IDES) struggled to keep up with the large number of Illinoisans in need of unemployment assistance during the pandemic. Applicants had extremely long wait times, Illinoisans who were not unemployed discovered that fraudulent applications had been filed in their names, and identity thieves and other crooks stole as much as $2 billion from the program meant to help those who lost their jobs and needed the help. My office received more calls in 2021 about the unemployment programs than any other issue.

Now a report from the Auditor General is revealing just how serious the problems were. This audit is separate from the report issued by the University of Illinois Institute of Government and Public Affairs which I told you about a couple of weeks ago. According to the Auditor General, IDES failed to adequately keep track of data about claimants for help under the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program. The lack of accurate data was so bad that even the Auditor General could not get an exact picture of how taxpayer dollars were spent.

The audit found that IDES did a poor job of keeping confidential information secure and did not do a good job of guarding against waste or “unauthorized use” of the funds for the program. Illinois borrowed more than $4 billion from the federal government to pay unemployment benefits, but only paid back a portion of the debt before it began accumulating interest. A debt of $1.8 billion remains outstanding.

Looking for answers on state employee health plans

Over the past few weeks I have heard from numerous local residents who have questions about changes to insurance coverage for state employees. Much of the concern has centered on patients of some local health care providers and whether they will continue to have access to their physicians under the new plans.

I have reached out to the Illinois Department of Insurance and the Department of Central Management Services (CMS) for answers as to what their plans are, and what those affected should do. The Department of Insurance regulates insurance companies operating in the state of Illinois, but CMS has responsibility for state employee plans.

CMS has replied that they don’t believe there is anything additional they can provide at this time. They do not have regulatory authority over health care or insurance providers, therefore they are directing complaints to the Department of Insurance. The contract in question, which is between a health care provider and an insurance company, is a private contract and not a state contract.

I will continue to work to get some clarity about these important questions and report back to you once information becomes available.

Update on SOS wait times

This week I spoke with the Secretary of State’s office about some long wait times which people in our area have experienced at Driver Services facilities. To alleviate the wait times, the SOS is advising Illinoisans to conduct business online at ilsos.gov whenever possible. You can use the website for such services as obtaining a duplicate driver’s license or ID card, renewing a license plate sticker or purchasing a driver record abstract.

Those who must visit a facility in person are encouraged to make an appointment, either online or by calling 1-844-817-4649. Tuesdays and Saturdays tend to see the highest customer volume, according to the SOS, so they recommend making in-person visits on other days the facilities are open.

Expiration dates for driver’s licenses and ID cards have been extended until December 1, but that extension does NOT apply to Commercial Driver’s Licenses (CDLs) or CDL learner’s permits. The federal REAL ID deadline has been extended to May 3, 2023.

Celebrating our agricultural history

I was glad to be part of the 74th annual Thresherman’s Reunion opening ceremony in Pontiac last Thursday. We have come a long way in agriculture and it’s good to celebrate our traditions and history. It’s also important to look to the future as we continue to find new approaches and technologies to help feed the world. This is an amazing event every year. Thank you to all those who work so hard to put the Reunion together.

How much do we owe?

As of the time of this writing, the State of Illinois owes $2,910,745,188 in unpaid bills to state vendors. One year ago, the backlog stood at $4.7 billion. This figure represents the amount of bills submitted to the office of the Comptroller and still awaiting payment. It does not include debts that can only be estimated, such as our unfunded pension liability which is subject to a wide range of factors and has been estimated to be more than $141 billion.

Did You Know?

Our state song includes the line “There were none more brave than you, Illinois, Illinois,” in honor of Illinois soldiers in the Civil War. Among these were the 25th Illinois Volunteer Infantry Regiment, made up of soldiers from Iroquois, Ford, Vermilion and other neighboring counties. The 129th Illinois included five companies from Livingston County. Soldiers from Livingston and Woodford Counties also fought with the 3rd and 11th Illinois Cavalry. Most Illinois soldiers fought in the western theater under Generals Ulysses S. Grant and William T. Sherman.

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