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Stroger faces questions on health care, taxes.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007
Daily Herald
by Ames Boykin

  Des Plaines resident Barbara Carbonara and her daughter asked Cook County Board President Todd Stroger whether the county-run hospital offered free care.

Typically found in Chicago, Stroger made a trip to their hometown Monday night. Carbonara, and here daughter Michelle were among 30 people at a meeting hosted by the county's top official at the Des Plaines Public Library.

"You guys sent me a bill afterward," she said. "Is your hospital free or not?"

While she eventually filled out paperwork and the county absorbed the expense, she was confused because her daughter also was billed and eventually chased by a collection agency.

"We do send bills out but we don't always try to get people to pay them," Stroger said of the hospital, whose billing and collection procedures have been criticized by government watchdogs.

"Unfortunately, we can't truly go back and cure the past. We are trying to cure the problems that we have, but we really can't answer for what happened two years ago."

Michelle Carbonara said she doesn't want to be known as a debtor. There are efforts under way to inform patients without health insurance at Stroger Hospital of public aid available to help those who can't pay, officials said.

Mal Holec, of Mount Prospect, came to the forum to ask what county services are available for his tax dollars. "I'm spending the money but what am I getting?" he said.

Stroger and other county officials told him health care is available, as well as sheriff's police and court services in the $3 billion budget.

Questions also came up about a proposal to institute a county tax on electricity and natural gas. It would mean an extra $1 to $1.50 a month for taxpayers, Stroger said.

Cook County officials estimate a deficit of $300 million to $400 million. Without more money, Stroger said, there's a dire threat of major health care cuts.

"The only way that you can pay for these services is through some type of tax," he said.

Mount Prospect Mayor Irvana Wilks presented Stroger with photos from last month's storm that illustrated how urgent the proposed Levee 37 project is to rein in the Des Plaines River. She said she hopes to meet with the county board to get support to use forest preserve land for the $26 million flood-control project.

Des Plaines Mayor Tony Arredia, who heads the Northwest Municipal Conference alliance of suburbs, said he expects Stroger to visit again to work with area suburbs.



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