Saturday, October 25, 2014

Medical Madness in McHenry County—Political Poison Triumphs

Healthcare Navigators like these who aid the public to access health care coverage got the ax in McHenry County

In a perfectly executed stealth attack the McHenry County Board suddenly and unexpectedly rejected an Illinois state grant to pay for counselors to help insure people under the Affordable Care Act on a 10-10 vote.  The vote to renew a $584,971 that requires no county matching funds had expected to be routine.  The Board accepted a grant last year, the first year for enrollment in so-called Obama care and almost 3000 county residents were assisted in enrolling with the aid of trained Navigators who assist those in need understand and navigate the sometimes complex process.  This year the Finance and Audit Committee had approved accepting the grant by a unanimous 7-0 vote.  It was expected to sail through the County Board approval process with perhaps a moment over to given over to political theatrics by hard core Tea Partyers.
The grant was to run through next April, covering the annual open enrollment period for the state’s Health Care Exchanges.  But since part of the grant falls in this year’s county fiscal year, which oddly ends on November 30, the Board had to vote during this fiscal year on accepting the grant and 16 votes were necessary   The vote, coming a little more than two weeks before election day when half of the Board’s 24 seats are at stake, was the perfect opportunity to pounce.
When the motion to approve was called, arch-conservative Ersel Schuster, who lost her bid for Republican re-nomination and will be going off of the Board, and the openly anti-immigrant Illinois Minutemen leader and Tea Party darling Diane Evertsen, both representing the sprawling rural Board District 6, suddenly announced their opposition.  “This funding for the Affordable Care—the ‘Non-Affordable Care Act’—is another half a million dollars plus to try and make something work that is an admitted failure,” Evertsen said.  First term District 1 member Nick Chirikos of Algonquin, one of only two Democrats on the board—the other, Paula Yensen of District 5, was absent—scrambled to defend the program.
But the fix was in.  Word had to have been quietly circulated that the vote would be a litmus test for Republican Board members after a take-over by the county GOP by right wing insurgents this spring.  Political futures, it was hinted, were on the line for those who did not fall in line with a jihad against hated Obamacare. 
Board Chair Tina Hill, a relative social moderate might have been able a year or so ago to whip up support for the grant.  But she has been in the crosshairs for some time and is now on leave for medical conditions and has sought treatment for what may be some sort of a breakdown and/or substance abuse problems.  Acting Chair James Heisler of Crystal Lake, a moderate conservative not known for grinding a social agenda ax, has only been at the helm for a few weeks.  New Republican County Chair Sandra Fay Salgado, a Board member from District 4 formerly was employed as an office manager for a mental health provider.  She was notably absent for the vote.

The political and social atrocity went down here at the McHenry County Government Center.

As for the public, no hearings were ever held on rejecting the funding.  And apparently none of the County’s major health care providers and agencies were consulted in advance.
The vote broke down this way”
Yes: Sue Draffkorn, R-Wonder Lake, Joe Gottemoller, R-Crystal Lake, John Jung, R-Woodstock, Donna Kurtz, R-Crystal Lake, Robert Martens Sr., R-Spring Grove, Mary McCann, R-Woodstock, Carolyn Schofield, R-Crystal Lake, Michael Walkup, R-Crystal Lake, Michele Aavang, R-Woodstock, and Nick Chirikos, D-Algonquin.  Note: McCann is chair of the Finance and Audit Committee.  Donna Kurtz is vice-chair of that committee and chair of the Health & Human Services Committee and the Board’s most vocal social moderate Republican.  Walkup is a former Democrat not trusted by many Republicans.
No:  Diane Evertsen, R-Harvard, John Hammerand, R-Wonder Lake, Acting Chair James Heisler, R-Crystal Lake, Ken Koehler, R-Crystal Lake, Mary McClellan, R-Holiday Hills, Anna May Miller, R-Cary, Robert Nowak, R-Lake in the Hills, Ersel Schuster, R-Woodstock, Mike Skala, R-Huntley, and Yvonne Barnes, R-Cary.  Note: Hammerand joins Schuster and Evertsen as the most openly Tea Party stalwarts on the Board and waged open war on distressed Chair Hill.  McClellan is leaving the board and running unopposed for the open County Clerk position.  Most of the rest had been expected to support the measure.  Five of them were members of the Finance and Audit Committee who unexpectedly flipped their vote.  The biggest surprise as a no vote came from Heisler.
Absent:  Nick Provenzano, R-McHenry, Sandra Fay Salgado, R-McHenry, Paula Yensen, D-Lake in the Hills, and Chair Tina Hill, R-Woodstock.  Note:  Provenzano, a right wing warrior, would have been a no vote.  Yensen and Hill would have been definite yeses.  Salgado seems simply determined to dodge the bullet.
I am not sure what Schuster, Evertsen, and the Tea Party apparatus behind them expected.  Perhaps choruses of hosannas sung by angels on high.  The folks are as capable of self-delusion as they are of misleading the public.  What they reaped was an instant shit storm when the news hit the front page of the Northwest Herald on Thursday morning.
The entire county network of health care providers and agencies rapidly recovered from stunned disbelief and went public with outrage and indignation.  The usually politically savvy and tread-on-eggs leadership of Pioneer Center, a conglomerate private agency, with thumbs in many behavioral, developmental disability, and mental health pies said it would scramble to try and fund a Navigator for their clients.  Without the ability to assist the largely disable and disadvantage population, including homeless PADS clients, those individuals will either continue to forego health care entirely, or turn to emergency room treatments at an enormously elevated cost.  “I don’t understand why and how you could turn down 500 some thousand dollars to perform what really is an important role in the community, Pioneer President Patrick Maynard told the press, “I would really like to know what their thinking was.”
Suzzane Hoban,  Executive Director of the Family Health Partnership Clinic, the county’s main provider of basic health care services to the un-and-under insured, was blunter in Newsletter sent to the Clinic’s supporters and community, “We immediately had to lay off our trained Navigator and will no longer be able to assist people through this complex process…Without assistance to get people private insurance or public aid, we expect the number of patients we serve to increase, and many more to use the emergency room as their primary care clinic, wasting precious local health resources.”  She also pointed out that many of the 500 workers who just lost their jobs in Woodstock when Brown Printing closed will soon be placing additional strain on the system.
The suits of Centegra, who run the two hospitals, urgent care facilities, and provide county’s only mental health beds, delivered their messages more discretely.  But as the county’s largest employer and an economic powerhouse, you can bet no voters had to pay attention.
But outrage was not limited to the medical community whose ox was the most notably gored.  The comments section of the Northwest Herald, usually a cesspool or right wing paranoia and rage was overwhelmed by real citizens expressing their shock and outrage.  The usual cast of ravers was reduced to denying that they were either against health care or unfeeling.  They rallied around the dual mantras of opposing hand holding to help applicants navigate the system and accusations that the poor were unworthy because they lack personal responsibility.  One guy inferred it was some sort of patronage boondoggle.  On a normal day these knuckle draggers would dominate the conversation and bully alternative voices with abuse and implied—and sometimes explicit—threats.  But now they found themselves overwhelmed and on the defensive.
I understand the home and office phones of no voters have been flooded with irate callers.  Most have simply stopped answering.  And with the exception of Schuster who cheerfully doubled down on her opposition, most of the others will not respond to press questions either.
By Friday afternoon some board members were scrambling to find a way the reverse the decision.  Acting chair Heisler told the Northwest Herald that he and several other members, presumably including other no voters, would meet this coming Monday to discuss holding a new vote either at the next regular Board meeting on November 6, or perhaps at a special meeting.  I presume that no meeting would be called unless it was clear that the vote would be overturned.
Meanwhile grant support Kurtz also expressed confidence that the vote could be changed.  She also said that an Illinois Department of Public Health grant coordinator agreed to temporarily hold off on re-distributing the grant to other counties pending a re-vote.
It is possible that a vote held after the November 4 general election would relieve pressure on some Board Members.  It has also been suggested that having made a grand and symbolic anti-Obamacare gesture, it would be possible for some to change their votes without losing face—or Tea Party support.
Two things are clear however—concerned citizens in McHenry County need to continue to hold the miscreants’ feet to the fire in coming days and that in the election no voters should be cast for opponents and incumbents Nowak, Dist. 1; Heisler, Dist. 2; or Hammerend, Dist. or for Mary McClellan for County Clerk, even if that means casting no vote in that race.  A message should be sent.
On the other hand, yes voters should be rewarded when they appear on the ballot. Democratic incumbents Chirikos and Yensen as well as challengers Kathleen Bergan Schmidt, trying to return to the County Board for Dist. 3, and new comer  Arne Waltmire in Dist. 4 who faces the AWOL Saldago deserve support to keep up the fight against the reoccurrence of this kind of outrageous nonsense.

This is a reminder of my personal mantra these days now that I am retired as an active Democratic Party Committeeman—vote Democratic on defense.  Take to the Streets in offense to create significant change—like a single payer national health care plan that doesn’t even need the complicated rigmarole of Healthcare Exchanges or the necessity of Navigators.

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