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Stroger turns to Durbin for help
Cook chief wants U.S. funds assured for county hospital

Tuesday, March 06, 2007
Chicago Tribune
by Karoun Demirjian

WASHINGTON -- Cook County Board President Todd Stroger plans to meet with Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) on Tuesday in an attempt to gain key congressional support in his fight to see that federal dollars earmarked for public-health facilities in Cook County are actually used for that purpose.

Stroger contended that the state of Illinois is planning to spend only $132 million of the $375 million that he said has been designated for the county's hospital system under various federal programs. Stroger is seeking a commitment for the other $243 million as well.
"We think that under the language, it should all go to the county hospital, which is the only public hospital in the area," Stroger said.

He added that with plans to add 14 clinics to the Cook County hospital system, it is crucial to secure the additional federal funding now. "The language is clear; it speaks of public hospitals in our state. And while we appreciate the state's responsibilities ..., we just think we need it more."

Stroger expects to find an ally in Durbin, who has spoken out against two recent federal proposals to reduce health-care funding, which would make it harder for public hospitals to meet the costs of caring for the uninsured.

The first proposal, put forth by the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid, would change the definition of "public" hospital status, and in so doing significantly reduce funding to hospitals nationwide for treating children, trauma patients and the poor. The second comes under the Bush administration's proposed 2008 budget, which calls for $100 billion in cuts to Medicare and Medicaid, mainly in the areas of outpatient and nursing care, over the next five years.

Durbin recently wrote a letter to Senate Finance Committee leaders asking that funding be designated for institutions that bear the direct cost of caring for the uninsured.

"At a time when states are working toward increasing health-care coverage for the uninsured, the ... proposal [by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid] would thwart their progress by weakening an already fragile safety net," he wrote. "Attempts to shift the cost burden onto states will leave them with no choice but to cut benefits or eliminate coverage. The results would be devastating and will likely increase the number of uninsured Americans rather than help improve our health-care system."

Durbin's meeting with Stroger comes on the heels of a general meeting the senator held with Illinois county officials Monday. About 20 of the nearly 100 local officials who are in Washington this week to attend the National Association of Counties' 2007 Legislative Conference met with Durbin to voice their concerns on various issues, including health care, pollution, globalization and transportation.

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