Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle reiterated Thursday her call for more hospitals to treat additional uninsured patients.
The nagging issue — and Preckwinkle’s appeal — continues to strain the county government’s $6.2 billion budget.
In 2018, the county’s two public hospitals, flagship John H. Stroger, Jr. Hospital and Provident Hospital, provided 55% of all the so-called charity care in Cook County for people who are typically uninsured, the most recent state records show. Dozens of other public and private hospitals in the county split the rest.
“There will be conversations with the other 66 hospitals about increasing their commitments to charity care,” Preckwinkle told Reset host Jenn White. “The non-for-profit hospitals get property tax reductions ostensibly because they’re delivering charity care. … That provision is pretty modest for many of them.”
Providing charity care, or treatment that doctors give without getting paid for it, is among several factors that help nonprofit medical centers get what can be lucrative tax breaks.
Charity care was among a variety of issues Preckwinkle addressed on Reset, as she prepares to lead the first Cook County Board meetings in 2020 next week.
On replacing Dr. Jay Shannon, who led the county-run health system for five years until the system’s board ended his contract. (Shannon was outspoken about other hospitals treating more uninsured people.)
Preckwinkle said the health system board would hire a national search firm to find Shannon’s replacement.
“We hope that in the first part of 2020 we’ll have a new CEO on hand,” Preckwinkle said. “And that CEO will continue to try to make the improvements in quality and efficiency that Dr. Shannon began, as well as addressing this uncompensated care challenge.”
The amount of uncompensated care at Cook County Health is estimated to reach nearly $600 million this year.
Uncompensated care is made up of two buckets: charity care, and debt that piles up from patients that don’t pay their medical bills or from insurance companies that won’t reimburse the health system.
On Cook County government’s projected $307.5 million deficit by 2024 and the possibility of raising taxes
“We have in the past had to raise taxes,” Preckwinkle said. “I’m not going to make any commitments going forward, but let me just say that our first cut always is let’s figure out how to make government more effective.”
On several members of the Cook County Democratic Party, which Preckwinkle leads, facing federal scrutiny
“This is a very modest number of people who are under investigation for bad acts,” Preckwinkle said, given the thousands of elected officials in the county.
Still, she said, elected officials should be prohibited from working other jobs, like lobbying the government. Instead, Preckwinkle said, elected officials should get paid well and work full-time, and that could help reduce corruption.
On Preckwinkle’s plans for 2020
The swelling amount of uncompensated care at Cook County Health, further reducing the Cook County Jail population and increasing the number of train rides along Metra lines that serve the south suburbs and the South Side of Chicago while reducing fares.
Kristen Schorsch covers Cook County politics for WBEZ. Follow her @kschorsch.