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County health leaders go to DC to talk reform

Saturday, July 18, 2009
Chi-Town Daily News
by Alex Parker

Two Cook County Health and Hospital System leaders traveled to Washington last week to meet with Illinois Congressional leaders to discuss health care reform, and its affect on the health system.

CEO William Foley, board chairman Warren Batts and county governmental affairs representative Randy Mark met with Sens. Dick Durbin and Roland Burris, and Reps. Mike Quigley, John Shimkus, Jan Schakowsky and Bobby Rush, as well as representatives from the White House and Centers for Medicare and Medicaid.

At issue was legislative language on how safety net hospitals would receive supplemental Medicaid payments, known as DSH.

Batts says the laws floated by health care reform bills would reduce over time the money hospitals would receive. He says further reduction of Medicare reimbursement would harm hospitals' ability to treat poor and indigent patients.

Batts calls the meeting successful, considering the ever-changing status of health care reform bills, which seem to take new forms daily.

"This is a very critical thing," he says. "The way that is was going was that if the bills that were on the table last week, this is going to be a serious problem."

But given the lengthy nature of reform, any changes wouldn't hit the health system until 2013.

"The bills change by the minute," Batts says. "Eventually, if the plan is put in place, sometime in the late 2010 decade, DSH money will be reduced pretty sharply."

Batts and Foley also expressed their concerns about universal health care - which they are not necessarily opposed to, but could affect safety net hospitals, like Stroger Hospital.

"Some of the issues on the table could be disasterous for safety net hospitals," Batts said Thursday at the health system board meeting.

He and Foley cited the case of hospitals in Massachussetts, where all residents have health insurance. Funding for safety net hospitals has dropped, they said, as people go to other hospitals, leaving safety net locations in the lurch.

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