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Preckwinkle says she's 'deeply troubled' by Trump's Obamacare stance

Wednesday, February 08, 2017
Chicago Tribune
by Hal Dardick

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle on Wednesday said she was "deeply troubled" by the actions of President Donald Trump's White House during his first few weeks in office, singling out his administration's efforts to dismantle the Affordable Care Act and limit immigration.

She called the Affordable Care Act — widely known as Obamacare — a "godsend" that helped provide medical insurance to 480,000 people in the county last year. A large portion of them use the county Health and Hospitals System, with most insured through an Obamacare expansion of Medicaid that Dr. John Jay Shannon, the system's CEO, said covers $200 million in yearly county costs.

That $200 million makes up most of the $289 million drop in taxpayer costs for the health system over the last seven years. So if the federal government were to eliminate that Medicaid expansion and not replace it in some way, the county could face significant financial woes.

That's a scenario Preckwinkle previously described as a "nightmare," and on Wednesday, she did not sound optimistic that Congress would find a way to maintain existing health care coverage levels.

"We've heard the president and members of Congress talk about repeal and replace, and now repair," Preckwinkle said. "The one 'R' that's missing is reality. The Republicans voted more than 60 times in the House to repeal the Affordable Care Act, but apparently never thought during that period what they might replace it with."

Trump during his campaign pledged to quickly repeal and replace Obamacare, but last weekend told Fox News host Bill O'Reilly that it's "very complicated" and could take more than a year to complete the effort.

Preckwinkle also struck a defiant tone when it came to the county's status as a sanctuary county, where government officials don't ask about residents' immigration status or hold detainees set for release from the county jail at the request of federal immigration officials unless there's an arrest warrant.

She talked about Trump's now-suspended executive order barring entry to the United States by immigrants from seven mostly Muslim nations, saying it displayed Trump's "seeming disdain for immigrants who live among us." She described the effort as "a Muslim ban" that's "shameful."

"Cook County is a sanctuary county," Preckwinkle said. "We're proud of it. We have been for 10 years. We've been very clear that we'll follow the law, but we will not be immigration enforcement agents."

But when asked if the county would maintain its sanctuary status even if the federal government pulled county government funding, Preckwinkle said, "I am not prepared to do that."

She did, however, refer to the lawsuit brought by Minnesota and Washington state governments that led to the suspension of Trump's immigration order. "We'll see what happens as these matters proceed through the courts, but we'll take whatever measures we believe are necessary to protect and defend the residents of our county," she said. "We are prepared to figure out how to resist, should resistance be necessary."

hdardick@chicagotribune.com



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