‘It is really hard to imagine anything more cruel’

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle made it clear on Wednesday: There is no Plan B for the hundreds of thousands of her constituents who risk losing health insurance should Republicans in Washington succeed in repealing the Affordable Care Act.

Toni Preckwinkle looking at the camera: Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle speaks on the impact of a potential repeal of the Affordable Care Act during a news conference at Cook County Health in Chicago on Oct. 7, 2020.

© Antonio Perez / Chicago Tribune/Chicago Tribune/TNS
Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle speaks on the impact of a potential repeal of the Affordable Care Act during a news conference at Cook County Health in Chicago on Oct. 7, 2020.

She warned of a possibly cataclysmic blowback within Cook County’s public hospital system that runs a massive insurance program made possible by the ACA, also known as Obamacare. Without it, there is no backup for many of the 370,000 low-income enrollees who have come to rely on the county’s largest Medicaid managed care plan to access health care, she said.

“Here’s the bottom line: The repeal of the ACA would not only financially cripple Cook County Health by dramatically increasing the amount of uncompensated health care we provide, it would be catastrophic — catastrophic — for the patients we serve,” Preckwinkle said at a news conference with several Democratic congressmen at Cook County Health’s Chicago headquarters.

Illinois Democrats have sounded the alarm on the implications of repealing the Affordable Care Act before, but Preckwinkle said Wednesday that now more than ever, there is “a very real threat this time around.”

That’s because the U.S. Supreme Court is slated to hear arguments on the law’s constitutionality on Nov. 10 after GOP officials sued the federal government in 2018 to strike down Obamacare. And with the pending confirmation of President Donald Trump’s nominee Amy Coney Barrett to the nation’s highest court, the cards could be stacked against the ACA.

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About 308,000 Cook County residents potentially would lose health insurance under an ACA repeal: nearly 94,000 CountyCare enrollees who qualified for Medicaid under the Obamacare expansion, and about 214,000 patients on other Medicaid plans. Financially, the cost is at least $1.4 billion due to loss of CountyCare capitation revenue and reimbursements for other ACA patients within Cook County Health as well an overwhelming uptick in charity care for the uninsured.

Cook County Health interim CEO Debra Carey said she worries the human toll could mean patients discontinuing medications, going back to frequenting local emergency departments or not seeking care until they are acutely ill, she said.

“The potential for a repeal of the ACA will be devastating to the patients we care for and will put the fundamental mission of this organization in jeopardy,” Carey said. “To those elected officials and others who would allow the repeal of the Affordable Care Act: You are choosing politics over primary care, rhetoric over responsibility and heartlessness over humanity.”

Other political officials at the news conference said this year is the worst time to be considering a rollback in health insurance, given a pandemic that has hit the U.S. especially hard.

“It is really hard to imagine anything more cruel, especially at this moment of dire need in this country,” Rep. Jan Schakowsky of Evanston said.

The president, who was diagnosed last week with COVID-19 and has received top-notch government-funded health care, should not be treated any differently than Cook County’s poorest residents, Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi of Schaumburg said.

“I wish him well,” Krishnamoorthi said. “I understand that he is receiving world-class care as we speak. That’s a good thing. But the American people deserve no less. The people of Cook County deserve no less. And advocating for the repeal of the Affordable Care Act at the same time that you yourself have COVID and there’s a global health pandemic is just plain wrong.”



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