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Stroger: Don't mess with health success

Wednesday, October 21, 2009
Chicago Sun-Times
by Sun Times editorial staff

When politicians inject themselves into health care, bad things can happen.

Look no further than Cook County Board President Todd Stroger's efforts to trim the sails of the independently run Cook County health-care system board.

The board, filled with professionals who manage a nearly $1 billion county health-care system, was the payoff to taxpayers in return for swallowing Stroger's sales tax increase.

From the start, Stroger has balked at the board's independence. After all, the county's health-care system has long been a place for political patronage and other inefficiencies that were good for politicians but bad for taxpayers.

Now come more rumblings that Stroger wants to rein in the board, as it moves to cut 950 health system jobs -- 500 of those actually filled positions-- and spend about $70 million less in county taxes, having found a way to get hundreds of millions of additional federal dollars.

And with no cuts in the quality of care.

In fact, Warren Batts, chairman of the health-care system board, said the county hopes "to become far more patient-oriented."

Which to anyone who has waited hours and hours for care at a county facility will be welcome news, if it comes to pass.

It looks to us like the hospital board is doing a good job -- one of those rare deals that the taxpayers might actually benefit from. What a shame the board will be dissolved in 2011, unless the County Board or state lawmakers act to extend it.

But until then, Stroger and the Cook County Board have one powerful control over the board: approval of its budget.

Given the upcoming election, with plenty of folks to keep happy, it might be tempting for Stroger and company to mess with that budget.

But in the end that would be quite foolish.

Why meddle with success, right before an election?

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