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Out-Of-County Patients Cost Stroger Hospital $50M
Yearly Drain On Resources Comes From Doctors In Other Areas Sending Patients To Cook County

Friday, November 20, 2009

by Mike Flannery

CHICAGO (CBS) ?They come from miles away for free treatment at Stroger Hospital, and if you live in Cook County, you're paying for it.

And it's not just in Illinois. Doctors and hospitals from all over the Midwest are telling patients without insurance to go to Stroger.

CBS 2 Political Editor Mike Flannery reports on the cost of running a safety net for patients from everywhere.

Aurora housewife Bushra Ayaz has colon cancer. She's now being treated at Stroger Hospital, because, when she sought treatment at hospitals in DuPage and Kane counties, they declined because she has no health insurance.

"The doctors over there, they were saying, 'Oh, you cannot afford the chemo. ... It's very expensive, and we will not give you here,' Ayaz said.

Her sister, Nuzhat Fahim, explains the runaround they received at other hospitals.

"I just felt like a rolling stone," she said. "When we were in a hospital, they sent (us) to another one. And they sent (us) to another one. They said, 'No, you go to Cook County Hospital.'"

She's not alone. CBS 2 has obtained reports showing that about 60,000 patients a year come to Cook County for subsidized health care, costing about $50 million a year.

"Patients will frequently tell us, 'They told me to come to Cook County Hospital,'" Dr. Steven Bowman said.

In 2008, 26,000 patients came from the Collar Counties; 25,000 were from downstate counties; 1,800 came from Indiana; and 5,200 were from other areas.

"It probably didn't start off being the safety net hospital for the whole Midwest," Bowman said. "But de facto, we are the safety net hospital. And it costs money to the provide care as a safety net hospital."

Only the residents of Cook County pay special taxes to support the $874 million health care system here. The system's CEO, Bill Foley, wants to change that.

"It's not fair," he said. "There needs to be a fair mechanism for Cook County to get reimbursed for treating those patients. … If the patient can't pay, then I think those other counties should pay."

Stroger Hospital gets the sickest of the sick, who require the most expensive care, veteran emergency room nurses said.

As for getting Illinois's free-loading counties to start paying their fair share of costs for these patients, don't hold your breath. Suzi Schmidt, chair of the north suburban Lake County Board, said officials are willing to discuss the issue, but don't want to pay anything more. A DuPage County Board representative made a similar comment.

As Bushra Ayaz fights for her life, she said she's grateful Stroger Hospital is there.

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