Michelle Obama's Hospital Shuns Uninsured Poor People

Presumptive Democrat presidential nominee Barack Obama has positioned himself as the champion of the poor and all those that can't afford health insurance.

Maybe he should direct his efforts to the hospital his wife Michelle works for, as it appears the University of Chicago Medical Center "steers patients who don't have private insurance -- primarily poor, black people -- to other health care facilities."

As reported by the Chicago Sun-Times Saturday (emphasis added throughout, h/t NBer saw the light, photo courtesy NY Daily News):

Michelle Obama -- currently on unpaid leave from her $317,000-a-year job as a vice president of the prestigious hospital -- helped create the program, which aims to find neighborhood doctors for low-income people who were flooding the emergency room for basic treatment. Hospital officials say such patients hinder their ability to focus on more critically ill patients in need of specialized care, such as cancer treatment and organ transplants.

In fact, the Obama campaign has multiple ties to this program:

Obama's top political strategist, David Axelrod, co-owns the firm, ASK Public Strategies, that was hired by the hospital last year to sell the program -- called the Urban Health Initiative -- to the community as a better alternative for poor patients. Obama's wife and Valerie Jarrett, an Obama friend and adviser who chairs the medical center's board, backed the Axelrod firm's hiring, hospital officials said. [...]

But the Urban Health Initiative has critics, including South Side residents and medical professionals.

"I've heard complaints from a handful of constituents, but I've also had calls from people in the health care profession complaining," said Ald. Toni Preckwinkle, whose 4th Ward is just north of the hospital. "The medical professionals who have come to me are accusing the university of dumping patients on its neighboring institutions. ... Whether it's being implemented in the way that's in the best interest of the patient, I can't tell you."

Sen. John McCain, Obama's Republican opponent, criticized the Democratic presidential hopeful Friday for having pledged on the campaign trail to expand health care for Americans at the same time his top political strategist "was running a campaign to cut coverage for the poor."

This does seem to be an absurd hypocrisy that media members should be all over, don't you agree?

For its part, the Washington Post published a lengthy piece about this hospital -- and the Obama campaign's connections to it -- on Friday (emphasis added throughout):

Quentin Young, a local physician whose five-doctor medical office lists Barack Obama among its patients, said that in past decades the South Side often viewed the institution as a "citadel of exclusion," more interested in research than the well-being of its neighbors. [...]

The hospital told state regulators it spent $10 million on charity care for the poor in fiscal 2007 -- 1.3 percent of its total hospital expenses, according to an analysis performed for The Washington Post by the bipartisan, nonprofit Center for Tax and Budget Accountability. That is below the 2.1 percent average for nonprofit hospitals in Cook County.

As a nonprofit, the University of Chicago Medical Center receives annual tax breaks worth nearly five times as much as it spends on charity care, the analysis found.

Wow. So the hospital is receiving in tax breaks FIVE TIMES what it spends on charity care! This doesn't sit well with some in the community:

Quentin Young, the South Side physician, described the medical center's level of charity spending as "ludicrous." Young, known in Chicago for having been the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s personal physician, is chairman of the Health and Medicine Policy Research Group, a Chicago-based nonprofit that advocates health-care reform. Young considered himself an ally of Barack Obama while he was a state legislator.

"That's shameful," Young said of the percentages. "They are arguably, if not defrauding, then at least taking advantage of a public subsidy. We would like to see them give more than the minimum. The need is there."

Hmmm. So, Martin Luther King Jr.'s former doctor thinks what's going on at this hospital is "shameful" and potentially fraudulent. But there's more:

Critics, however, describe the program as an attempt to ensure that the hospital retains only affluent patients with insurance. [...]

Edward Novak, president of Chicago's Sacred Heart Hospital, declined to discuss the center's initiative in particular but dismissed as "bull" attempts to justify such programs as good for patients. "What they're really saying is, 'Don't use our emergency room because it will cost us money, and we don't want the public-aid population,' " Novak said.

An April 2007 survey of the hospital uncovered the following criticism:

"This new health initiative is not really about helping the residents of the South Side of Chicago. It is simply a way for the University of Chicago Medical Center to save money and reduce costs by serving fewer poor people without health insurance."

Interesting. And, at the heart of this initiative are Obama's wife aand chief campaign strategist. Seems rather newsworthy, don't you think?

This seems especially true given the RNC's response to the Post piece published early Friday morning:

While Barack Obama campaigns on expanding health care, his chief strategist uses political tactics to push poor people away from care at the University of Chicago Medical Center. This is yet another example of Obama's rhetoric not matching his record and raises serious questions about whether Americans can trust him on this important issue.

As the Post article just appeared Friday, and the Times piece Saturday, it's early to tell how much coverage this will get. A Google News search identified that so far, only the Associated Press has picked it up.

A LexisNexis search identified no television media covering this story, although transcripts of broadcasts from Friday through the weekend often don't appear until the following Monday.

Given Obama's position on the poor and the uninsured, if this issue gets little or no additional coverage, one has to wonder why.

Campaigns & Elections 2008 Presidential Washington Post Associated Press Chicago Sun-Times Michelle Obama
Noel Sheppard's picture

Sponsored Links