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Monday, February 12, 2007

Health-care check, please

By Dennis Byrne
Chicago Tribune

It's nice and compassionate that Cook County is giving away free health care to thousands of people from the collar counties.

But with Cook County looking at a deficit approaching a half billion dollars, it's irresponsible, and the mooching by the collar counties should stop now.

Certainly not in a way that would suddenly throw indigent families from the collar counties who travel to Stroger Hospital and other Cook County health facilities into the cold. But in a way that Lake, DuPage, McHenry, Kane and Will Counties would at least pony up their fair share. Or take care of their own indigent. But in the four weeks since the news broke of the sponging, no one has stepped forward to say they should or would pay.

What can account for such generosity when doctors, nurses and clinics are getting the boot in Cook County because of budget cuts? Why, when tens of thousands of Cook County residents are waiting interminably in long lines for health care and medications, are thousands more non-residents allowed in line?

Are the boards of the collar counties jumping up and saying, let's do an accounting of how many of our residents are using services that we are morally and legally obliged to provide, and at least reimburse Cook County? Are the collar counties so poor that they can't pitch in for their share?

Apparently, the mooching had been going on for a long time, until Dr. Robert Simon, the county's health chief, tried last month to stop it. Patients, he said, would have to prove they are Cook County residents; those who aren't either must be referred to the public health departments of their own counties or pay in full. Elective surgeries or procedures would have to be paid up front.

But just before the policy could be implemented, Cook County Board President Todd Stroger rescinded it. A Stroger spokesman, speaking in the usual language of bureaucratic equivocation, left room for rescinding the rescission, or not. At the risk of appearing hard-hearted, the County Board should take matters into its own hands while it is struggling to find ways to balance its budget and end the practice.

County officials did not respond to requests by the Chicago Tribune for information on how many non-residents are served and at what cost. Whatever it is, it probably wouldn't cut very much into the mountainous deficit, which Stroger initially addressed with a cynical demand that county officers make across-the-board 17 percent cuts in their budgets.

Cynical because Stroger dodges the difficult job of finding and pushing for cuts that are more deserving than others. That would require sniffing out the worthless and undeserving who have infiltrated the ranks of county workers during his father's tenure. Stroger obviously doesn't want to be the one wielding the ax.

Cynical because it puts the onus on county commissioners to make the difficult choices. Cynical because he can veto the board's cuts, blaming the commissioners for supposedly (1) not cutting deep enough or (2) heartlessly cutting essential services--whichever serves his political purposes.

In demanding a sweeping cut of 17 percent, Stroger knew that he would raise a hornet's nest of protest, so, superficially, it appears to be a courageous act. Especially among the people who voted for him. Now, the same folks are calling it obscene and a betrayal.

If it weren't for the essential services being indiscriminately cut by Stroger, it would be hard to work up much sympathy for those voters and critics. They ignored the obvious dangers of voting for a political hack who is putting and keeping relatives and friends in well-paying positions. Some refused to vote against him because they couldn't bring themselves to vote for a Republican, any Republican. Others were so suffused with their pro-choice, anti-gun ideology that they couldn't bring themselves to vote for the reform that was so obviously needed. Many of them were self-styled progressives who, this time, couldn't stomach change or reform.

Time to let Stroger know that we don't like what he's doing, we're told. Call him up, give him a piece of your mind, attend a protest, send an e-mail. Too late. No use. He has almost four years left in his term, and when the next election arrives, he knows that the same people will vote for him again, for the same ridiculous reasons.


Anonymous said...

A significant number of out of county residents do get free care at the hospital. I should know, I see them every day. Worse yet, is the huge and I mean huge number of non-US citizens (non-visa, non-green card etc...) frankly illegals that come to the hospital. Some days, over 30% of the patients I see are probably illegals, not speaking a word of English. But there is more. I have even seen people fly in from other countries and "suddenly" have some surgical need to e taken care off, right of the plane.

Wayne Capinegro said...

You mention the people who will vote for Stroger again for the same ridiculous reasons. Whoops, you almost said, "Blacks."

Anonymous said...

You make some excellent points. As a contractor employee at Stroger Hospital, it disgusts me everyday to see the many ways money gets wasted here....

Some days "they" get close to realizing some of the problems, but then nothing really happens.

BeeJiggity said...

BRAVO! Wonderful butt-smackin' for the Toddler.

You raise a few issues which have been interesting to me for some time now.

If Cook County can't figure out how to run a hospital system for the indigent, how is the entire country going to make a better effort when we kick off the 'Single Payer' fiasco?

When I heard the debate between Stroger and Perica on 'VON last fall we could all see that Todd was lost. It was a 2 on one fight. Cliff Kelly as a moderator kept his thumb on the scale (or more like an elbow) and Perica mopped the floor with both of them. This was a perfect example of people seeing the truth and ignoring it.

Yes black people. Black people like Mayor Daley. And John Daley. And Burt Natarus. And Danny Solis, and, I think you get my point. It was directed at the above commenter "wayne cap i negro." But those "Blacks" just wanted to keep machine power.

The other black people thought it was too sinful to vote for a republican.

The indiscriminate 17% cut confirmed all our suspicions. Todd is as lost as a girl scout at R. Kelly's company picnic.