Cook County Health saw more insured than uninsured for first time in 2014

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act has helped bolster Chicago-based Cook County Health and Hospital System's finances, according to the Chicago Tribune.

For the first time, in 2014, Cook County Health and Hospital System served more insured patients than uninsured, substantially lowering its rate of uncompensated care.

The public health system had nearly $1.5 billion in total revenue, including operating revenue and Cook County tax dollars, in fiscal 2014. The system's revenue exceeded its expenses by $14.1 million last year, according to audited financial statements for the year ended Nov. 30, 2014. While last year's income represents just a fraction of its total revenue, it was an improvement for the cash-strapped system, which has been a financial black hole for Cook County and its taxpayers for years.

Doug Elwell, deputy CEO of finance and strategy of the health system, said, "we'd have to go back to the archives" to find the last time yearly revenues exceeded expenses.

These positive outcomes are the result of Cook County's new insurance plan for Medicaid beneficiaries, which has brought in significant federal funding. The health plan, called CountyCare, has also brought in a wave of new patients. Today, CountyCare has about 180,000 members, and it is the second-largest Medicaid managed care program in the Chicago area, according to the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services, the Chicago Tribune reported.

The introduction of CountyCare has provided the health system with the opportunity to make ambitious plans, such as hospital renovations and other construction projects.

Despite the system's improved financial performance, it is facing new challenges. The cost of patient care increased by 46 percent last year, partially due to the influx of new patients with previously untreated chronic conditions.

According to the Chicago Tribune, health officials say the system's long-term financial health will depend on its ability to control costs while also investing in improved equipment and facilities to enhance the patient experience.

"We have reason to smile a little bit," Mr. Elwell told the Chicago Tribune. "But it's not a reason to rest on our laurels. We have lots of work to do."

The Cook County health system is one of the largest public hospital systems in the nation. It serves as a safety net for much of the low-income, uninsured population in Chicago. Additionally, the system serves the Cook County jail population and oversees the public health department. Because many patients cannot afford to pay for their medical bills, the health system has historically incurred hundreds of millions in operating losses each year.

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