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Greater Health Care Access Is Being Explored in Cook County, Il.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016
Equal Voice

Cook County, Illinois – which includes Chicago and is home to more than 5.2 million people – is working to expand health care access for 180,000 uninsured residents, according to a coalition of grassroots organizations.

The county’s Board of Commissioners approved a proposal on Jan. 13 that establishes a health care task force that will have three months to issue a report on how to best expand “quality health care” to the uninsured.

Members of the task force also are under direction to “work to implement the key findings as soon as is feasible.” Despite the Affordable Care Act, about 9 percent of county residents lack health insurance because of costs, eligibility and program awareness, according to the Cook County Board of Commissioners.

For college student Eric Ekra, a leader with the grassroots coalition known as Healthy Communities Cook County and an immigrant from the Ivory Coast, the vote came as welcome news. The Chicago resident lacks health insurance and has not visited a doctor in three years.

“When I get sick, I take home remedies and pray that it’s nothing serious,” he said in a statement. “I don’t want to have to make a choice between paying my school bills and paying an enormous hospital bill.”

Healthy Communities Cook County found in a survey of 400 residents that a majority of the uninsured continue to get health care at hospital emergency rooms, which is more expensive than a standard medical office visit. Supporters of the vote hope the proposal will eventually save money as well as help residents gain access to affordable health care.

“We have made great progress in connecting Cook County residents to coverage and health care access since the Affordable Care Act was passed, but there is still work to be done to increase access to health care for the uninsured,” Commissioner Jesus “Chuy” Garcia said in a statement.

The task force will include commissioners, as well as representatives from grassroots, health care and professional organizations. Members of Healthy Communities Cook County include Communities United, ENLACE Chicago, the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, Southwest Organizing Project and the National Alliance on Mental Illness Chicago.

Communities United, formerly known as Albany Park Neighborhood Council, is a Chicago-based grassroots organization that works on social, economic and racial justice issues.

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