County travel cuts could pay for health care

  • By MARK REPASKY
  • Medill News Service
  • February 09, 2006 @ 5:45 AM
More than 1,300 uninsured, low-income Cook County residents could get primary health care coverage if a proposal to cut the county administrator's travel budget by 90 percent is approved.

"We basically move resources from bureaucracy to frontline services," Commissioner Forrest Claypool, D-Chicago, said at a news conference announcing the plan.

Claypool's proposal is one of 19 amendments the county's finance committee is expected to take up Thursday during the final stage of budget negotiations. The county has been operating without a budget since Dec. 1, when the new fiscal year began. The provision that allows the county to spend money without a budget expires at the end of the month.

The amendment restores $500,000 to the Access to Care program that was cut in the budget prepared by Board President John H. Stroger, D-Chicago.

Claypool is challenging Stroger for his seat as board president in the March 21 Democratic primary.

According to Victoria Bigelow, president of Access to Care, restoring the money will cut patients' waiting time in half and allow the program to serve 1,305 new clients. Nearly 2,000 people are on the agency's waiting list. She said the agency serves between 13,000 and 14,000 patients annually.

Access to Care provides low-income, uninsured residents of Cook County with primary health care by working with more than 700 suburban physicians who each agree to see a set number of patients for a nominal fee. Program administrators estimate that Cook County has 350,000 uninsured, low-income residents.

Claypool also proposed an amendment that eliminates individual administrative units at the three county hospitals and creates a consolidated bureau of health administration. The consolidated bureau, Claypool contends, would cost $2.1 million, compared with the $8.5 million the county spends on the separate administrative units. Claypool said the consolidation would save the county $6.4 million.

That savings could be used to pay for 39 new nurses and increase high-demand services at county clinics, such as treating patients with glaucoma and diabetes.

The idea to consolidate the hospitals' administrative services, such as human resources, budgeting and public affairs, is not new. A year ago the board passed an amendment that did exactly the same thing, but Stroger did not include that in his budget proposal to the board this year.

Stroger said through a spokeswoman: "We are working on it. [The county human resources department and industrial commission] are reviewing and analyzing it. When the analysis is complete the county will determine which direction it is going."

Joining Claypool on Wednesday was Dr. Quentin Young, national coordinator for Physicians for a National Health Program and a former resident at Cook County Hospital.

"The public health medical service is under grave threat," Young said. "These are important steps toward meeting the growing needs of the uninsured in our county."

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