County hospital anticipates changes after health bill

March 23, 2010 5:07:15 PM PDT
As President Obama signed the historic health reform bill Tuesday, Republican opponents made it clear they are not ready to give up their fight against the bill.But what does the law mean for patients and staff at Chicago's Stroger Hospital?

The administration and doctors at John Stroger Hospital strongly support the bill. Mandatory insurance coverage means the hospital will get paid for the services that are now subsidized by Cook County taxpayers. For patients, they are hoping the new health care bill will mean better care and shorter emergency room waits.

Since 1835, Cook County has been providing medical care for those who cannot afford it. Last year, 200,000 patients were seen in John Stroger Hospital's emergency room. Eighty percent of those were uninsured.

Paula Crenshaw and her kids have no choice but to use Stroger.

"I've raised my kids on my own. Just never had a job with insurance. Being a waitress they don't offer that," said Crenshaw.

In her 43 years, Crenshaw says she has never had insurance. With her credit ruined because of medical bills, Crenshaw is all for the new health care bill. So is Jerome Allen who is being treated for prostate cancer. He hopes insurance coverage will him better access to health care.

"Maybe I won't have to come to Stroger all the time. I can have a private doctor," said Allen.

Because the new bill requires that every American buys health insurance, Stroger Hospital anticipates losing patients to other hospitals.

"We are going to compete on the market for those customers now that have insurance, we're going to have to up our game to make sure people want to come here," said Lucio Guerro, Cook County Health & Hospitals System.

One thing Stroger will be doing is helping their uninsured patients get coverage by the 2014 deadline.

"We actually have workers that rotate around 24 hours a day speaking to patients, trying to get them enrolled in some type of insurance now. We have a very active in charity program as well that will continue," said Dr. Jeff Schaider, John Stroger Hospital, ER chairman.

But not all of Stroger patients are so eager to get coverage. Jacqueline Gibson was laid off from a state job in December. Even though she had to wait four hours at Stroger to get treated for a sprained ankle Gibson does not think it is fair for the government to require insurance.

"That bill, I feel, is taking away an individual's rights. I don't agree with it at all, because a lot of people can't afford to barely live, "said Gibson.

Gibson and others worry about how the bill will be paid for. The government will provide subsidies for Americans who cannot afford to buy health insurance.

Meantime, while Stroger Hospital administrators say they will be competing with other hospitals for insured patients, the hospital will remain a safety net for the thousands of undocumented workers.