November 4, 2019
(CHICAGO) -- In a report released today, the Civic Federation announced support for Cook County’s proposed FY2020 budget. The $6.18 billion budget proposal is a reasonable budget plan that holds the line on increasing taxes or fees while continuing to make investments in communities and services. The full report is available here.
“This prudent one-year plan should be viewed as a calm-before-the-storm budget,” said Civic Federation Laurence Msall. “While the projected structural deficit in 2020 was the smallest in at least a decade, the County continues to see its revenues decline and expenses rise, meaning formulating a balanced budget may be a much heavier lift in future years.”
The Federation is encouraged by the County’s decision to continue making a supplemental contribution to the Cook County Pension Fund to make up for shortcomings of the contribution amount required by State law and commends the County for establishing the new Independent Revenue Forecasting Commission. Additionally, the Federation is supportive of the health system’s efforts to generate new revenue from insured patients.
However, uncompensated care at Cook County Health is expected to double from FY2014 through FY2020. Health system officials have said the increase is unsustainable and could jeopardize the system’s mission of serving all patients, regardless of their ability to pay. Considering the health system accounts for nearly half of the County’s budget and is a crucial healthcare lynchpin for low income residents, the trend in uncompensated care is alarming.
Last year the Civic Federation raised questions about Cook County Health’s decision to accept emergency visits at Provident and reopen the ICU, which deviated from health system’s strategic plan for Provident as a regional outpatient center. The Civic Federation’s concerns were renewed with the health system’s decision with little public debate to build a new, $240.9 million facility with both outpatient and inpatient services. The Federation is concerned that the plan may not meet the long-term needs of the health system and the County and comes at a time when Cook County Health is struggling to meet its expenses. The Civic Federation urges the County to reconsider its plans for a new hospital and instead direct scarce resources where they are needed most: to a comprehensive outpatient center.
Though the health system is facing severe financial pressures, the Civic Federation remains supportive of the separate Health Board and recognizes the transformation of the health system in recent years from a chronic strain on taxpayer resources to the largest Medicare managed care provider in Cook County.
“The health system has significantly improved its operations in recent years and is a critical resource for the County’s most vulnerable populations,” said Msall. “However, the growth in uncompensated care poses a serious risk to the health system’s fiscal sustainability and mission.”
Among other recommendations, the Civic Federation urges the County to work with the General Assembly to obtain statutory authority for its supplemental pension contributions. Further, the County should consider consolidation of the Cook County Pension Fund and Forest Preserve District Fund and other consolidation options.
“Given the recent report from Governor Pritzker’s Pension Consolidation Feasibility Task Force, Cook County should examine the impact consolidation could have on the pension funds and consider joining a second stage of consolidation outlined by the Task Force,” said Msall.