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Protest threat of city health clinic privatization

City clinic clients and community supporters will protest Tuesday against the threat of privatization at an event where Mayor Emanuel and Health Commissioner Bechara Choucair are speaking on “Transforming Healthcare in Chicago.”

Southside Together Organizing for Power and others – who stopped city efforts to close mental health clinics two years ago – will rally at 10 a.m., Tuesday, August 16, at the University Clulb, 76 E. Monroe.

Emanuel is said to be set to unveil a plan for the city’s health services next week [correction: it’s being released Tuesday, August 16].  In July he said he’d identified millions of dollars of savings by ordering city health clinics to partner with federally-qualified health centers, private nonprofits that operate clinics under federal grants and guidelines.

No details on how those savings would be accomplished have yet been forthcoming.

But last month, the city’s labor relations director wrote AFSCME Council 31 saying the city is considering contracting out services provided by its community health centers – and that job losses for union members could be expected.

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DuPage Health Net Grows

While efforts to expand access to health care are stymied in Washington and Springfield — and Cook County’s public health system is closing clinics and losing doctors — a successful collaboration of public and private agencies in DuPage County is expanding into a comprehensive safety net for the growing numbers of uninsured people there.

After six years of coordinating efforts by public agencies, health care providers and human service groups to provide care to the uninsured, Access DuPage is coming under the umbrella of the newly-formed DuPage Health Coalition as part of a five-year plan to build “a robust and sustainable health safety net in DuPage County.”

Access DuPage serves 10,000 uninsured residents a year, connecting them with their own primary-care physicians or clinics — who contract to donate their services for a certain number of patients — and coordinating with hospitals that provide diagnostic, specialty, and hospital services as charity care. The program also pays for prescription medications.

Patients pay small copays for office visits and drugs, but 98 percent of costs are donated, said Candace King, executive director of the DuPage Federation on Human Services Reform. Doctors and hospitals donate about $24 million worth of services a year, she said.

With the county’s low-income population growing dramatically — King said DuPage is now home to 130,000 low-income people — County Board chairman Robert Schillerstrom convened a healthcare summit with hospital executives and other leaders in January to address the needs of the uninsured. An task force growing out of the summit developed the DuPage County Health Safety Net 2012 Plan, which was adopted in May.

Under the plan, Access DuPage will continue as program of the DuPage Health Coalition, while the larger organization handles broader planning and aims to enroll every individual who is eligible for Medicaid or uninsured and living in a household with income below 200 percent of the federal poverty level.

Expanded support will be sought from hospitals, physician practices, health insurers, and public and human service agencies using a “mosaic approach.” One principle of the plan is that an effective safety net actually saves money by maintaining people’s health; another is that the cost of uncompensated care by borne by participating organizations on a “fair share” basis.

A key element of the plan is expanding two existing community health centers operated by Access Community Health Network, which currently handle about 25,000 visits a year, and opening two or three more under ACHN’s aegis. The nonprofit operates federally-subsidized centers around the Chicago area.

Also on the agenda is ensuring access to dental and mental health services. Linguistically and culturally appropriate services for the county’s growing immigrant population is another priority.

With a number of innovative strategies — like ensuring that people leaving DuPage County Jail are connected with the medical and mental health services they need — the coalition aims to establish a model for others to follow in providing a full continuum of health care to low-income people.

For more: Richard Endress, DuPage Health Coalition, 630-510-8694

Candace M. King, Dupage Federation on Human Services Reform, 630-782-4782

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