Billing contractors get another shot at hospital deal
July 31, 2007
Staff writer Jonathan Lipman
A contractor who could have brought in millions for cash-strapped Cook County was booted out of Stroger Hospital today by commissioners who wanted to let other firms — some of whom are major campaign donors — another crack at sharing the work.
The decision infuriated hospital officials who said the contract was vital to boosting revenue at the county hospital system, which is already projected to finish the year $50 million in the hole.
The county health bureau’s chief operating officer, Tom Glaser, said it was clear commissioners were influenced by competing companies angry about not getting a share of the work.
“The other contractors were sitting right behind (the commissioners) and passing them notes,” Glaser said.
Board members in July approved a $4 million contract for Chamberlin Edmonds to do on-site billing work at Stroger Hospital.
Chamberlin is one of four companies working for the county under similar contracts to do what’s called “patient eligibility.” The companies get county patients approved for federal programs, such as Medicaid, allowing the county to bill those programs every time they treat the patient.
As reported in the Daily Southtown, Board President Todd Stroger’s new hospital management team believes one of those contractors, Great Lakes Medicaid, was getting a greater share of the work under past administrations because of “personal relationships” between former hospital staff and the company.
Chamberlin was able to get patients qualified for federal programs about 15 percent of the time; Great Lakes succeeded about 9.5 percent of the time.
“These are objective reasons we picked them,” health bureau chief Robert Simon said. “We have no relationship … with any of these companies.”
Great Lakes and its owners have donated at least $21,900 to the campaigns of county politicians since 2000, according to state records. Chamberlin Edmonds has donated nothing.
Canceling the contract will force the hospital to dedicate more of its finance workers to billing tasks, Simon said.
Glaser said canceling the deal will lose the county somewhere between $1 million and $10 million this year.
That wasn’t good enough for the county board, which voted 12-4 to overturn their previous vote and cancel the contract.
“This whole contract blindsided the other vendors,” Commissioner Elizabeth Gorman (R-Orland Park) said. “We’re looking for some kind of fairness.”
“What we’ve been hearing from some of the vendors is that they’d be willing to work for a quarter of this,” Commissioner Joan Murphy (D-Crestwood) said. “Vendors who have been faithful to us deserve an opportunity.”
Glaser said all four contractors a chance to apply for the new, expanded contract and only Chamberlin made a reasonable and feasible offer.
“I strongly disagree that this was not fair,” Glaser said. “Everyone was around the table and got the same information".
Cook County Prosecutors and other non-Union employees get a pay raise approvalThe Cook County Board today approved a pay raise for prosecutors, but several commissioners made it clear they oppose a tax increase for the 2008 budget.
“I will not support a tax increase,” said Commissioner Tim Schneider (R-Bartlett). “This county needs to go on a diet.”
Board President Todd Stroger today again tried to tie the wage increase for prosecutors with the need for more taxes in 2008.
To give all county employees a promised 4.75 percent pay raise next year would cost $113 million, Stroger said.
“There’s no way you can talk about that without talking about a tax increase,” Stroger said. “There’s no way you can raise fees enough to close that gap.
“There’s not going to be a way to cut enough without seriously damaging the government.”
The deal approved today ends a contentious several weeks between Stroger and State’s Attorney Dick Devine. Devine’s staff had made vague threats about walkouts or mass resignations if prosecutors were not given raises to match public defenders.
Prosecutors got an 8 percent raise retroactive to 2004, while other non-union county workers got a 3 percent raise retroactive to the start of this year.
Commissioner Deb Sims complained county workers were being unfairly portrayed as overpaid.
“I wish everybody could get the raise they’re entitled to,” said Sims (D-Chicago). “My staff hasn’t had a raise in, I believe, six years. Some people in this county work hard.”
County budget records show Sims’ three staff members earn between $50,016 and $83,323, and saw their salaries increase between 11.5 percent and 31 percent between 2002 and 2007.