Cook pushes for health fundsServices limited for non-residents
Wednesday, September 19, 2007
by Mickey Ciokajlo
In a move to give themselves leverage going into negotiations with collar counties, Cook County commissioners Tuesday set a Dec. 1 deadline to stop providing prescription drugs to indigent patients who are not county residents.
Earlier this year, the County Board approved a similar measure to cut off health services for non-residents Dec. 1 and added prescription drugs Tuesday to ratchet up the pressure. The policy would not apply to emergencies.
In the next two weeks, County Board President Todd Stroger plans to meet with collar county officials about having them provide Cook County with some reimbursement for the services provided to their residents.
Cook County is desperate to generate new revenue as it is running a multi-million-dollar deficit yet again.
Dr. Robert Simon, the county's interim health chief, unilaterally cut off the collar counties last January, but Stroger quickly overruled him in the hopes that Cook County could use its position as the region's largest public health provider to argue for more state and federal revenue. That money has not come through, and now Stroger plans to meet directly with collar county officials.
In the past, suburban public health officials have acknowledged Cook County's role as a critical health-care provider, particularly in treating more complex and expensive ailments.
Simon could not estimate how much money Cook County spends treating non-residents, but he said the annual prescription drug cost alone was between $4.5 million and $6 million. Simon said about 5 percent of the county's estimated 1 million annual patient visits are non-residents.
In keeping with the county's tradition of treating all who come through its doors, Simon said, the county's health bureau fills 257,000 prescriptions per year for people who do not live in Cook County.
"It's just been historically, we've never ever asked a patient or stopped any care, any referral, if they're out of county," Simon said.
Stroger and commissioners said it's only fair that they get reimbursed for the services they provide.
"This has become a regional health-care center paid for by the people of one county," Commissioner Peter Silvestri (R-Elmwood Park) said. "The people of Cook County are subsidizing health care for 5 percent ... of the patients that walk in there.
"And the Christian in me says that's OK, but the politician in me says someone's got to pay for that."
Also Tuesday, Commissioner Joan Murphy (D-Crestwood) introduced an ordinance, which was sent to committee without debate, to increase the county's sales tax by 2 percentage points, to 2.75 percent. Stroger did not take a position on the tax but reiterated his point that the county needs to generate new revenue for 2008.
Commissioner William Beavers introduced a telecommunications tax, which he had said he was researching.