| October 19, 2018

Cook County Sees Boom in Healthcare Jobs – and the Number of Insured Residents

Andreea Ciulac

Andreea Ciulac is former Chicago Tribune writer with almost a decade of reporting experience. She has a knack for deciphering... Andreea Ciulac is former Chicago Tribune writer with almost a decade of reporting experience. She has a knack for deciphering complex medical reports and statistics and conveying them into engaging stories that will help executives in healthcare keep up with the digital transformations in their industry. She covers an array of topics from pharma to startups and the Illinois healthcare system.

A fairly new Medicaid program for uninsured adults in Cook County is driving growth for healthcare jobs in the area.

Launched in 2017 and operated by the Cook County Health & Hospitals System (CCHHS), CountyCare is a no-cost Medicaid program through the Affordable Care Act.

The program currently has about 335,000 members and it’s expected to attract about 10,000 new members in the next fiscal year. To keep up with the demand, the Cook County Board plans to add more 240 jobs in 2019, said a spokesperson.

The Board came to this decision after looking at favorable predictions: the thousands of new enrollees will bring in a $647 million in revenue for the county’s health system.

A win on all fronts

Most of the new hires — around 150 — will be managers, who will ensure that the system can handle more patients.

Another 40 positions will be reserved for doctors and physician assistants. The same number of jobs will be available to environmental service workers, whose role is to ensure facilities are spotless. Cleanliness, or the lack of it, was something patients complained about in the past, said health system board chairman Hill Hammock.

Cook County has been investing massively in its healthcare system. More than 60 percent of the county’s proposed $5.9 billion budget for 2019 will go toward the Cook County Health and Hospitals System.

Judging by statistics, this kind of investment was long overdue. Around 14.9% of residents are currently living below the poverty level in Cook County, according to Data USA, a website that collects shared US government data and turns it into visualizations.

For these people, CountyCare is the only way to get proper health care.   

Services covered by this plan range from prescription drugs, medical supplies, and X-rays to post-hospitalization nursing, hearing and speech therapy, and even mental health services.

To qualify for CountyCare, applicants must be adults aged 19 to 64, live in Cook County, and earn no more than $15,282 for individuals or $20,628 for a couple.

However, not all doctors accept CountyCare patients. And those who are already eligible for Medicaid cannot enroll in CountyCare.

Using tech to free up emergency rooms

The program is intended to solve another pressing issue the U.S. health system has been battling for years: emergency room overcrowding.

And it does so by employing technology. Instead of relying on the emergency department for basic services while waiting for new appointment availability, health officials explained, patients will be “assigned intelligently (based on risk, complexity, and need) to patient-centered medical homes.”

In addition, patients will be tested for their risk of developing a chronic condition, a step shown to help avoid long-term illness and hospitalization. That information will later be fed into an electronic health record-keeping system accessible to a network of doctors and clinics.

Thanks to this smart tracking system, providers will get reminders whenever a newly enrolled patient needs follow-up care.

The Cook County’s announcement comes as a validation of the great strides Illinois has made in the recent years in the health and tech space.

Radical measures recently taken by Illinois legislators and heath providers hold the potential to improve health services for generations to comes. A recently signed bill, for instance, will give better Medicaid coverage to children with severe disabilities. These children are considered “medically fragile, technology dependent” meaning they rely on special medical devices to stay alive.

Illinois is also the only state in the nation to change its essential health benefit (EHB)-benchmark plan. The new version better equips doctors to fight the opioid crisis and care for mentally ill patients. Lastly, the state plans to make health care affordable to more people by 2019, which will lead to consistent savings for the state budget.

 


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