Letter to the Editor: What is the Meaning of Community Leader?

•March 9, 2016•

Dear Editor,

What is a community leader?  Is it somebody who tells you all they do for their community or is it someone that quietly behind the scenes takes care of their fellow neighbors and citizens for no financial reward.

The latter would describe Tim and Tonya Rose, owners of TnT Pizzeria. Did you know when schools are closed and Peace Meal Nutrition Program (located at the Sullivan Senior Center) cannot provide meals to our homebound seniors in Sullivan, that TnT makes extra food on their hot bar and delivers a hot meal to every shut-in senior who is on the Peace Meal Homebound list. For free.   Read More

Understanding Illinois: Illinois Primary May Be Last Stand for GOP Establishment

Nowlan•March 9, 2016•

By Jim Nowlan
NP Guest Columnist

The March 15 Illinois primary election will serve as a desperate last stand effort by the GOP Establishment to slow the Trump bandwagon, which appears headed to the party’s nomination.

Just a few short months ago, Republican operatives would have given Donald Duck as much chance as Donald Trump, a one-time Manhattan liberal, of winning the GOP nomination.

What has happened?

This past Tuesday, Trump won all southern states but Ted Cruz’s Texas decisively. His juggernaut can now be slowed only by wins for Gov. John Kasich and Sen. Marco Rubio in their home states of Ohio and Florida on March 15 (where both trail Trump in recent polls), combined with something less than Trump domination in Illinois.

Little has been written of the Illinois primary thus far for the understandable reason that the media focus has been on the rollout of primaries up to this point. A February 24 We Ask America poll did find Trump leading both Rubio and Cruz in Illinois by nearly 2-1 margins, with Kasich trailing in single digits.

Illinois offers two concurrent contests for the presidential candidates. At the top of the ballot is the “beauty contest” preferential vote. Whoever wins a plurality here picks up 10 delegates. Read More

Thinking About Health: Drug Coupons Mask the Real Price of Medicines

•March 2, 2016•

By Trudy Lieberman,
Rural Health News Service

What would make your medicines cheaper?

That’s a question Americans are asking every time they go to the pharmacy and find the price of a maintenance drug they’ve been taking has doubled or tripled, or that a new medicine, like one of the new diabetes drugs, their doctors have prescribed is beyond their means.

Increasingly the answer from the drug industry, which pretty much can charge whatever it wishes, is more patient assistance programs that come in the form of coupons, co-pay cards, or vouchers to help people buy their drugs. People needing help can also apply directly to a pharmaceutical company, and if their income is low enough, the company simply sends a supply of medicine to their home or doctor’s office. How many times have you heard on TV that AstraZeneca can help?

The coupon, co-pay route to helping patients is easiest to understand. The industry calls the coupons “pay-no-more “ cards telling patients they will pay no more than $50 or $100 for a prescription. Discounts vary by the type of drug. Some work like airline loyalty programs: Buy so many drugs and get the next one free.

E-vouchers are more complicated and hardly transparent. A pharmacy sends a prescription to a middleman vendor. The vendor works with the drug company to figure out how much of the patient’s cost sharing that’s required by the insurer it will pay on the patient’s behalf. Rules and amounts patients receive vary depending on the kind of drug.

Andrew Pollpeter, a senior principal with the Amundsen Group, an IMS Health Company, told me the company sets the amount of the voucher, and the patient doesn’t know much about it. But, he said, “they are happier when they see a lower copay.”

All this sounds great for patients, right? It may not be in the long-run. Read More

Understanding Illinois: Exploring Roots of Illinois Budget Crisis

Nowlan•March 2, 2016•

By Jim Nowlan
NP Guest Columnist

Illinois residents are paying significantly more in taxes and getting less in spending for public schools and state colleges than four decades ago.

How does that compute?

The answer is that health care costs for the low income (and state workers), pension appropriations and debt service have skyrocketed since 1978, squeezing other government programs.

Nowlan grafFrom the pie charts here, readers can see that the slices of the budget spending from all funds for Medicaid and pensions have expanded while those for education and state colleges have shrunk dramatically. Ouch.

We must appreciate that the budget pie for 2014 is actually larger than the one for 1978 because of population growth (13 percent in the period covered) and increased tax burden. In 1978 the individual income tax rate was 3 percent, whereas from 2011-2014 the rate was 5 percent.

I also thought real, inflation-adjusted per capita personal income would have grown somewhat during the period as well, but no.

According to the handy-dandy inflation calculator Google found for me, 2014 per capita income in Illinois of $29,666 would have been worth less ($8,170) than the actual per capita income in 1978 of $9,202. (This may help us understand the Trump and Sanders phenomena.) Read More

Understanding Illinois: Illinois Adrift, Spiraling Downward

•February 24, 2016•

By Jim Nowlan
NP Guest Columnist

Here I go again.

I do so to exhort readers to contact your legislators to demand that action be taken to begin to right the ship of state.

Once-proud Illinois is badly wounded. The state is more distressed than at any time since the Great Depression, when teachers were paid in scrip, as they may again be in Chicago in the near future.

Much of the blame lies at the feet of two proud, bull-headed men in Gov. Bruce Rauner and Speaker of the House Mike Madigan. Like Nero’s fiddling while Illinois crashes, they are too obdurate to be the first to pick up the phone and say simply, “Let’s sit down and address the big problems we face in Illinois and Chicago.” That would show weakness, they think.

The saddest part of this is that only the “little people” are suffering. Those in need of mental health services; seniors who need help with household chores, and college students who have been denied tuition grants awarded a year ago.

Lutheran Social Services, a major deliverer of social services (most such state services are delivered not by the state but by groups such as LSS) has laid off 750 employees because of non-payment by the state for services provided.

All the while the state is paying 12 percent penalties to vendors for its late payments. What a way to run a railroad. Read More

I Recognize the Tune but Not Sure That’s the Lyric

Oh Brother...

•February 24, 2016•

By Mike Brothers
NP Managing Editor

As we travel through the 40 days of Lent, I am reminded of an Oh Brother Easter.

I was known as Mikey throughout my family then and in some places today. Feazel St. in Harrisburg was still a gravel road, and I remember standing in the front yard dust cloud of the traffic getting my picture taken on Easter.

It is a picture of my teenaged cousin Judy and me dressed in our best church regalia. I have seen it often and have often been reminded of the circumstances that followed.

Circumstances that led me to take the heel of my hand, strike my forehead and, maybe for the first time declare: Oh Brother what have you done!

Judy was the youngest child of my father’s oldest brother Kenneth. Her mother, Wilma, had died very young, leaving Uncle Kenneth the task of raising a teenaged daughter alone. Older brother Dale quickly joined the Air Force and left her alone with dad.

Judy and my mom became close and, as a result, I ended up getting to hang out with her when I was very young. Read More

Understanding Illinois: The Complicated, Exasperating Matter of School Funding

Nowlan•February 17, 2016•

By Jim Nowlan
NP Guest Columnist

First, I want to apologize for playing fast and loose with some misleading factoids last week in a column about Texas and Illinois. I know better; surface statistics can as often obfuscate as illuminate.

I noted that Texas spends about $8,000 per pupil annually on it public school kids while Illinois spends $12,000 and change, a huge difference. This is fact, according to the U.S. Bureau of the Census, which surveys such matters and should be a credible source.

This does not mean, however, that Illinois pupils have on average that much more in financial support. Illinois does pay its teachers, on average again, about $10,000 more per year than do Texas schools, and this amounts to about $600 per pupil of the $4,000 per pupil difference I noted last week.

Much, maybe most, of the rest of the difference apparently results from the dramatic growth in Illinois pension payments in recent years, including those for teachers. This year Illinois will put $3.7 billion into the teachers’ retirement system in an effort to reduce unfunded liabilities, five times as much as the state contributed just a decade ago.

Of course, pension payments don’t go into the classroom, so my factoid about spending differences was misleading. Sorry.

All of which brings me to my topic for the week: Illinois school funding disparities, which are worse than for just about any state in the nation and have been thus for decades. Read More

Growing up in Sullivan: Farming as a Hobby

Ginther•February 17, 2016•

By Jerry L. Ginther
New Progress Columnist

Many years ago during the late 70s and early 80s, I took some pleasure in the business of farming.  Having enjoyed the erg classes in Sullivan and belonging to the Future Farmers of America (FFA) during my high school years, I later engaged in the occupation on a small scale, relatively speaking.  I say relatively because when comparing 100 acres to today’s farming operations, it would be considered less than peanuts.

However, it wasn’t my “bread and butter” job but mostly an expensive hobby. My father and brothers all farmed so I thought it was in my DNA. I truly loved it, but due to my more reliable full time job with the railroad, there was no expanding the acreage.

Often, I would have to do my fall plowing at night on my days off.  Moonlit autumn nights were my favorite times to plow. The fragrance of the newly plowed earth hung in the cool, night air. The brilliantly scoured moldboards reflected the moonlight like mirrors when they were raised out of the ground at each end of the field. So bright was the light from the moon that I could plainly see the furrow ahead without using the headlights on the little model A John Deere. Preferring not to use them because of the fog of bugs they attracted, they were only switched on at each end of the field to illuminate the headland for the drive to the other side of the plowed ground.

Of course, with each pass through the field the area of plowed ground increased in width, making the drive across the ends longer. Once the right rear wheel of the tractor was in the furrow and the trip rope pulled, the plow settled back into the ground, and the headlights were extinguished until needed for the next turn around. Read More