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Preckwinkle swipes at Rauner on health care bill

Monday, May 08, 2017
Chicago Tribune
by Hal Dardick

Democratic Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle took a swipe at Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner on Monday, saying he should have done more to oppose GOP efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

The board president said she urged the governor in March to contact Republicans in the state's congressional delegation and "tell them how important the ACA is to Cook County," but Rauner declined. Preckwinkle said she told Rauner during that phone call she was "deeply disappointed."

A Rauner spokeswoman called Preckwinkle's account of the conversation "simply untrue."

"On the contrary, President Preckwinkle thanked Gov. Rauner during their phone call for urging Congress to move thoughtfully through the health care debate, and the governor stressed his concerns about how the Medicaid population in Illinois would be affected by the proposed changes," Rauner spokeswoman Eleni Demertzis said in a statement.

Monday's differing accounts of the call comes after three Illinois Republicans who had declined to say how they would vote beforehand ended up in the "yes" column — U.S. Reps. Peter Roskam of Wheaton, Randy Hultgren of Plano in Kendall County and Adam Kinzinger of Channahon in Will County. The measure narrowly passed, and it now heads to the Senate where some rewriting is expected.

Before the March collapse of an earlier GOP repeal-and-replace bill, Rauner had warned that the city stood to lose $40 billion in Medicaid funding. After last week's vote on the reworked GOP plan, the governor said Obamacare was "seriously flawed," but expressed "deep concern" with the replacement plan and its effects on 650,000 Illinois residents who gained coverage through an expansion of Medicaid under Obamacare.

Preckwinkle said she wished Rauner "would have forcefully expressed that concern prior to the vote." She noted Republican Gov. John Kasich of Ohio had spoken in favor of aspects of Obamacare prior to the vote. She also said she "reminded" Rauner that she went to Washington, D.C., last fall at his request to support a health care initiative he needed federal approval to carry out.

Both Preckwinkle and Dr. Jay Shannon, CEO of the Cook County Health and Hospitals System, have warned of the potential impact of repealing Obamacare on both local taxpayers and patients whom the system treats.

They say the county stands to lose at least $200 million in payments it gets through the Obamacare expansion of Medicaid, and potentially hundreds of millions of dollars more if repeal results in a return to the days when a majority of people treated by the county health care system have no way to pay for their care. Those are costs local taxpayers could end up paying for, reversing how the county has reduced its local health care tax subsidy by $289 million over the past seven years thanks largely to Obamacare.

And people could find themselves without a way to pay for medications for chronic conditions, go to the emergency room for basic health care needs or end up only seeking care when they get really sick — all of which makes their ailments even more costly to treat, they said.

Monday's news conference, followed by an appearance of Shannon at the City Club of Chicago luncheon to outline his concerns, is seen as a way to try to build opposition to the Republican health care plan as it moves to the Senate.

"This issue is not dead — it's not even half way to the finish line," Shannon said. "The battle has just started. It requires individuals, community-based organizations, to be reaching out to their elected officials and saying, 'We will not go backward. We cannot go backward.'"

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