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  Cook County Hospital fills more outpatient prescriptions every day than are filled at 26 Walgreen's drug store combined.

State health bill could bring in $51 million a year for Cook County
Proposal awaits governor's signature and federal approval for funds

Monday, June 02, 2008
Chicago Tribune
by Hal Dardick

Cook County's beleaguered public health system could net up to $51 million more a year in federal funds to pay for treating uninsured patients under a measure approved by the General Assembly.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Jeff Schoenberg (D-
Evanston) and Rep. Barbara Flynn Currie (D-Chicago), still needs the signature of Gov. Rod Blagojevich to become law, but an administration spokeswoman said he backs it. Then the funding mechanisms in the five-year bill must win federal approval.

"Obviously, we can use it," county Commissioner Mike Quigley (D-Chicago) said Monday. "The question is, 'Will the federal government go along with it?' I'm skeptical."

Schoenberg said he was confident of approval, adding the bill passed Saturday was carefully crafted to address other concerns.

"I've done my best to lock all the doors and seal all the windows so the money can only be spent on medical care or the technology to improve the system's billing, which would in turn bring in hundreds of millions of dollars in new federal funds," he said.

He lamented the failure in committee of another bill that would have mandated a comprehensive management audit of the county's Bureau of Health Services. The audit, which the state would have paid for at a cost of more than $900,000, could serve as a "blueprint for reform" for the new independent board recently appointed to oversee the huge system, he added.

"I was stunned that the county had its lobbying team actively working to defeat the audit bill, even though they took a public position of neutrality," Schoenberg said.

County lobbyist Derek Blaida signed up at a hearing as neutral, then said the audit was not a good idea during his testimony, Schoenberg said.

Eugene Mullins, spokesman for County Board President
Todd Stroger, said, "We remain neutral and never testified in opposition to the resolution."

Schoenberg said he would continue to press for the audit of the system, which critics say is rife with patronage, cronyism and inefficiency.

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