Thinking About Health: Drug Prices Keep Rising With No End in Sight

TrudyLieberman-Photo•August 24, 2016•

By Trudy Lieberman
Rural Health News Service

Recently a tweet from Lauren Sausser, a fine health reporter I know in South Carolina, caught my eye. “Crazy drug prices became personal. My dad will start Keytruda regimen on Friday, $15,000 per infusion, once every three weeks indefinitely.” The high cost of pharmaceuticals had hit home!

Her 61-year-old father, Jim McCallister, who lives in Spartanburg, S.C., had been diagnosed with a melanoma discovered during a routine skin exam a few weeks earlier. It had spread to his lungs. Doctors recommended the drug which uses the body’s immune system to attack cancer cells and has showed promise in treating aggressive melanomas.

McCallister’s employer-provided insurance is paying for most of his treatment, and the family is looking into Merck’s co-pay program. In the meantime, McCallister faces several thousand dollars of out-of-pocket costs.

McCallister may be lucky cost-wise. But the fact remains: Somebody is paying for the high cost of Keytruda and other new drugs coming on the market. Sausser said her dad asked if insurance would cover the drug. “The doctor told him they would find some way.”

That’s the nub of the dilemma. For many such as McCallister, there may be help, often from the drug companies themselves in the form of patient assistance plans. Remember drug company AstraZeneca’s ads for some of its costly drugs: “AstraZeneca may be able to help”? Read More

Politics and Policymaking in Illinois: Rauner Breaks Mold of Illinois Governorship

Nowlan•August 24, 2016•

By Jim Nowlan
NP Guest Columnist

This is the second in a series about “politics and policymaking in Illinois.”

In his biography of Illinois governors titled “Mostly Good and Competent Men,” the late Chicago Tribune reporter Bob Howard concluded that the 40 to hold the office thus far have been, with a few notable exceptions, okay but not remarkable, certainly no visionaries among them.

Are there lessons to be learned by Illinois GOP governor Bruce Rauner, who has struggled in his battles with Democratic House Speaker Mike Madigan, from those who have gone before? Maybe; maybe not.

Several past governors stand out.

A penurious lawyer on the frontier, Democrat Thomas Ford (1842-46) restored fiscal integrity to the state, important for prospective outside investors.

Ford insisted that Illinois tax itself to pay in full a huge debt that had been run up earlier by the likes of lawmakers Lincoln and Douglas to pay for “internal improvements” (canals, plank roads and railroads) that mostly died aborning.

Republican Frank Lowden (1917-1921) received national notice for reorganizing a state government comprising scores of tiny bureaus into but a handful of state agencies. Read More

Growing Up In Sullivan: What Happened to our Railroads?

Ginther•August 17, 2016•

By Jerry Ginther
NP Columnist

If you are less than 30 years old, you are probably unaware of the vast railroad system that spread over this country like a web prior to the mid 1980s.

There are few visible reminders these days. Many of the rights-of-way where the rails laid were abandoned after the steel was retrieved; others were abandoned leaving the rails to rust in place.

The high centers of the rail beds where the tracks once laid are still visible in many parts of the country, running through the landscape like a scar and a fading reminder of these once busy railroad corridors.

Some may still be seen along a few of our nation’s highways, but in time nature will erase all evidence of a roadbed. If you are over 30, perhaps you have called attention to these vacant rights-of-way in the area where you live as you traveled about with your children or grandchildren.

So, why have so many of these rail lines, which were the most efficient movers of all sorts of freight, disappeared from the landscape?

There are several contributing factors, but I’ll discuss a few, which I believe were the most significant. Read More

Remember When? 8-17-2016

Compiled by Bekki Ferguson-Stevens

25 Years Ago This Week

Seven-year-old Jacob Thompson of Sullivan recently won the 1991 Decatur Razzle Dazzle coloring contest. As winner he will be crowned Prince of the Razzle Dazzle parade, which will be at 10 a.m. Saturday. Coronation will be held Friday night.

Sullivan Pre-School “Little Sluggers-Part II” held a 4-H fair Friday, Aug. 2 at the preschool. The group of school aged children have held meetings and given talks and demonstrations during their class at the preschool this summer. Their leaders were Melissa Dolan and Jodi Hughes. Blue ribbon award winners in the club were Chelsey Peters, Brock Peters, Brian Titus, Jeremy Cavinder, Paula Pierce, Jolene Wright, Courtney Rauch, Tara Welty, Lindsay Tull, Karissa Brosam, LaCosta Meadows, Andrea Christy, Brock McDaniel, Tony Cruit, Charlanna Tipsword, Leanne Welty and Jamie Moore.

Six area students are among the 3,142 students named to the spring semester dean’s list at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale. They are William D. Krummell of Arthur, Joseph D. Tuttle of Dalton City, Trent E. Doty of Lovington, Kevin A. Dawdy of Findlay and Paul J. Dolan and Jean A. Elzy, both of Sullivan.

Recognized during a recent athletic banquet, Rikki McArthur of Sullivan was a cheerleader at Lake Land College. Read More

Politics and Policy in Illinois: A Not So Typical History

Nowlan•August 17, 2016•

By Jim Nowlan
NP Guest Columnist

This is the first in a series of eight essays about politics and policy-making in Illinois, which will run between now and the November election, interspersed here and there with a few columns on timely topics. Since we will see no presidential election campaign in Illinois (the race has been ceded to Hillary; campaign money will go elsewhere), election activity here will focus on a few contested state legislative races.

[The Roman philosopher and politician Seneca said that, “All that’s past is prologue,” so I hope this series, a kind of primer, will help us understand how we came to where we are today in Illinois politics—fragmented, fractious, barely functional.]

In 2010, the Associated Press analyzed our 50 states and found Illinois to be “the most average.” That is, Illinois almost mirrored the nation as a whole in demographic diversity and economic activity.

Average maybe, but certainly not typical.

In his book, “The Nine New Nations of North America,” Joel Garreau found Illinois to be part of three of those nations, more than any other state: Foundry, Breadbasket, and Old Dixie. Read More

Thinking About Health: New Hospital Safety Ratings Available to the Public

TrudyLieberman-Photo•August 10, 2016•

By Trudy Lieberman
Rural Health News Service

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) recently signaled to the nation’s hospitals that it was getting serious-and tough-about patient safety and the quality of care hospitals provide. The government’s rating system-five stars for the best hospitals and one star for the worst-sends a message that patients have a right to know what’s going on inside the hospitals they entrust with their lives or those of their family members.

The overall star ratings, the first for CMS, are a composite of 64 measures the government has used the past few years to rate hospital performance. They include factors such as complication rates for patients who’ve had knee and hip replacement surgery, urinary tract infections associated with catheter use, death rates among patients with serious but treatable complications after surgery, and patients’ reported experience with their care.

Only 102 hospitals out of the 3,600 rated received five stars, and they included less well-known specialty facilities such as Lincoln Surgical Hospital in Lincoln, Nebraska, and the Orthopaedic Hospital of Lutheran Health Network in Ft. Wayne, Indiana. Medicare gave 129 hospitals one star. They included two prominent hospitals in Washington D.C. - MedStar Georgetown University Hospital and George Washington University Hospital - as well as several hospitals in New York City. Geisinger Medical Center in Danville, Pennsylvania, that health policy experts and politicians cite for exemplary quality involving new ways of delivering and coordinating care, received a below-average two-star rating.  Read More

Understanding Illinois: What To Do For Frustrated White Males

Nowlan•August 10, 2016•

By Jim Nowlan
NP Guest Columnist

The political conventions are over, and the consensus from both parties is in—there are lots of frustrated, even angry white males out there.

What to do for these men appears, however, rather elusive. Neither party has convincing— to me anyway—ideas about what to do over the long term to address growing wealth inequality as well as the structural economic change that leaves many of those without a college sheepskin out in the cold.

The fundamental difference in approach between the parties is that Democrats want to redistribute wealth from the rich to the rest, and Republicans don’t, worried that the wealth would be wasted by government.

Trump (is he a real Republican?) is a wild card. His economic policy would apparently reduce taxes for all and at the same time increase spending for those left out, deficits be damned.

Economic wealth creation is a relatively recent phenomenon, defined for millennia by war and territorial conquest. Read More

Letters to the Editor: 8-3-2016

The News Progress Editor,

Mr. Nowlan’s July 20 column states he now thinks there might be a way to properly fund state pensions, but why were they not funded before? Well, let’s see.

I’ve been following Jim Nowlan’s column for a long time and finally emailed him awhile back as to what I see the problem is in Springfield (as well as in D.C.). Just two words explain it all, it’s very simple, “Vote Buying.”

One party likes to buy votes by handing out massive taxpayer dollars, free gratis, and the other party wants to get government run-away spending under control and start paying off the ever increasinng debts.  Read More

Understanding Illinois: Making a Case for Open Enrollment in Illinois

Nowlan•August 3, 2016•

By Jim Nowlan
NP Guest Columnist

My friend Jennie is an attorney and mother of a youngster entering elementary school this fall. Jennie and her husband live in a central Illinois city, but Jennie travels 30 miles each day to her law office in another town.

Jennie thinks it would be marvelous if her child could ride along each morning, be dropped off at the elementary school near her law office; the two could then return home together after work and school each day.

Oh, Jennie could do this, but it would cost her $10,000 a year in out-of-district tuition, which the young family cannot afford.

Across the Big River, over in Iowa, Jennie and her daughter could do this—at no out of pocket cost.

The “sending” Iowa school district in which another Jennie and family might live would send its property tax support for Jennie’s child to the “receiving” district; after all, Jennie and husband pay taxes. And the state would also send its per pupil support to the receiving district as well.

This is called open enrollment, and it has been available to parents and children in Iowa since the late 1980s. The last time I looked nearly 30,000 pupils (six percent of Iowa’s total K-12 enrollment) attended a school district other than the one in which the family resides. Read More

A Floating Adventure Less than a Barrel of Laughs

Oh Brother...

•July 27, 2016•

By Mike Brothers
NP Managing Editor

Growing up in the Saline River valley, summer rains were a time of great joy in a world of little or no air conditioning.

As kids we didn’t realize the consequence of the rains ability to flood the streets of Harrisburg.

Sure, we had heard our parents and grandparents talk about the great flood of 1937. The Saline River overflowed into Harrisburg, sparing only the few elevated blocks of the square.

The only passage around town was by boat, and Hart’s Department Store led the nation in rubber boot sales.

It was a flood made particularly difficult by arriving in February so several lives were claimed by the cold winter waters.

By the 1950s a levee protected the city, and flooding levels were better controlled, but not so much that a bunch of kids couldn’t find a way to have fun in the low lands.

That’s what Mike Duncan and I thought when we saw some 55 gallon drums floating in a low lying area behind Smith Packing Company in Dorrisville one rainy afternoon.

We had some knowledge of Huckleberry Finn and his float trip down the Mississippi so we started trying to round up the barrels for our own trip. Read More