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Cook County stops paying for non-county residents' prescriptions
Alternatives sought to cover low-income residents' medicines

Wednesday, December 12, 2007
Chicago Tribune
by Jeff Long | Tribune staff reporter

McHenry County officials offered a snapshot Tuesday of the kinds of prescriptions that dozens of residents can no longer get filled for free at Cook County health clinics -- drugs for high blood pressure, elevated cholesterol and diabetes.

Since the Cook County Bureau of Health Services stopped filling prescriptions for out-of-county residents on Dec. 1, officials in McHenry and other collar counties have been fielding calls from low-income people about where they can turn.

"I can understand why the residents of Cook County wouldn't be responsible for the residents of McHenry County," McHenry County Board Chairman Ken Koehler said.
Health services bureau spokesman Sean Howard estimated those prescriptions cost Cook County $5 million last year. The burden had become too great to continue serving those who don't live in the county, he said.

Koehler and officials in other counties said Tuesday they are optimistic residents turned away by Cook County could participate in programs that provide federal money to assist with drug costs.

But officials acknowledged it was doubtful those programs would cover as much as in Cook County, where patients often pay nothing for prescriptions, Howard said.

At a meeting to discuss the issue in northwest suburban Woodstock on Tuesday, McHenry County health officials calculated that 134 McHenry County residents filled 848 orders for prescription and nonprescription medications in Cook County from December 2006 through October.

But it was unclear exactly how many people who live outside of Cook County received prescriptions through its health bureau. According to figures Howard provided, McHenry County residents ordered 2,435 prescriptions between Dec. 1, 2006, and Sept. 30, 2007 -- far more than the total calculated by McHenry County officials using Cook County data. Officials could not explain the variance.

Howard said 38,155 prescriptions were filled for DuPage County residents, 13,273 for Kane County residents, 18,235 for Lake County residents and 20,071 for Will County residents.

Officials in DuPage, Lake and Will Counties could not say whether those numbers were accurate. No one from the Kane County Health Department could be reached Tuesday.

McHenry County officials said they want to make sure residents who need prescriptions get them.

"People are on drugs for a reason," said Suzanne Hoban, executive director of the non-profit Family Health Partnership Clinic in Woodstock, which has been fielding calls from McHenry County residents who had been going to Cook County. "It's because they need them to stay healthy, and without them they won't."

None of the collar counties agreed to help pay Cook County for prescriptions, Howard said. "It's been quite a burden," he said. "We think it's only fair."

Residents from the collar counties can still get other services at Cook County health centers, Howard said.

Cook County had threatened similar action in January only to back off. But financial strains became too great to continue providing drugs to non-county residents, Howard said.

Facing a $130 million shortfall when 2007 began, the Cook County Bureau of Health Services expects to fall between $78 million and $80 million short this year, he said.

"They gave us a year's notice," said Dale Galassie, executive director of the Lake County Health Department and Community Health Center. "They shouldn't be paying for medication for Lake County residents. We get that."

Only a handful of Lake County residents, he said, have asked where to go now.

DuPage County Health Department spokesman Dave Hass said only 10 people have called and all of them were directed to new sources for their prescriptions.

Hoban presented officials with alternatives, such as the discount programs some stores allow for certain drugs. Pharmaceutical companies often have programs for low-income people.

"We just don't want anybody to fall through the cracks," Koehler said.



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