Obamacare ruling ‘a relief,’ Cook County health official says

SHARE Obamacare ruling ‘a relief,’ Cook County health official says
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Dr. John Jay Shannon, CEO of Cook County Health & Hospitals System, said the Obamacare ruling was ‘a relief.’ | Sun-Times file photo

The man in charge of the Cook County Health & Hospitals System greeted the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to back federal subsidies for Obamacare with a sense of relief Thursday.

Had the nation’s highest court killed those subsidies, it could have meant a huge increase in Cook County patients unable to pay their medical bills, said the system’s CEO, Dr. John Jay Shannon.

“For every institution, for us to a greater degree, it will be a relief,” Shannon said. “One of the signal achievements of the Affordable Care Act was the increase in the number of people in the country who have insurance through Medicaid expansion or through buying insurance on the market place.”

In 2013, Cook County’s charity care costs totaled about $500 million, Shannon said. One year later, those costs had dropped to $340 million.

“This is directly related to the Affordable Care Act,” Shannon said.

Without the federal subsidies, those charity costs would have likely returned to pre-Obamacare levels or higher, Shannon said.

That would have come at a time when Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle is trying to drum up interests in a 1 percent sales tax increase to help pay county bills.

On Thursday, Preckwinkle, unsurprisingly, applauded the high court’s ruling.

“President Obama’s Affordable Care Act has been a godsend to those of us in the public health business,” Preckwinkle said in a statement. “Thanks to the ACA, we are moving toward long-term financial sustainability for the Cook County Health and Hospitals System. More than 180,000 patients are now enrolled in CountyCare, the county’s managed Medicaid plan, greatly exceeding our 2015 enrollment goal of 156,000. Now, for the first time in its history, our health system has more insured patients than uninsured patients.”

Statewide, some 232,000 people have federal health subsidies through Obamacare, typically in the form of a tax credit, officials say. The tax credit averages about $211 a month per enrollee.

Shannon said ruling didn’t particularly surprise him.

“To me, this seemed like a desperate attempt of ideologues to try to reverse the overall intention of the Affordable Care Act,” he said. “They are looking for any chink in the armor they can find. I am glad the Supreme Court saw through that.”

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