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Cook County health care overhaul clears hurdle

Wednesday, July 14, 2010
Chicago Tribune
by John Byrne

A plan to remake Cook County's taxpayer-funded health care system to emphasize outpatient care at community clinics cleared a hurdle today.

The proposal by the county's independent hospital board passed a County Board committee by a 9-3 vote, though some commissioners worried the strategy will shortchange some of the neediest neighborhoods by closing acute care services at Oak Forest Hospital and scaling them back significantly at Provident Hospital.

"We have to have an emergency room, emergency care, at Oak Forest Hospital," said Commissioner Joan Murphy, D-Crestwood. "I believe that. To make any kind of health care (work) for those people that live in the (south suburbs), we need to have an emergency room that they can go to, and some in-patient as follow-up."
 
But Commissioner Jerry Butler, D-Chicago, said the proposal is an honest attempt to provide the best health care possible to county residents in light of shrinking state and federal subsidies and imminent changes to the way medicine is administered across the country thanks to health reform.
 
"We are now talking about holding up the good and looking for the perfect," Butler said. "There is no perfect plan."
 
The county's health system is the medical provider of last resort for about 800,000 residents of Cook County who lack health insurance. Even when health reform kicks into high gear in 2014, an estimated 200,000 to 300,000 county residents will remain uninsured.
 
The plan assumes $72 million in annual savings due to the changes at Provident and Oak Forest, which would be used to help run the reconfigured health system.

The proposal now heads to the full County Board July 27.


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