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Flashback: Michelle Obama Turned Away Poor

A repost of an article we posted back in 2010, that was from the 2008 archives of the Chicago Sun-Times:

Martin Nesbitt, Valerie Jarrett, President Obama, Dr. Eric Whitaker

U. of C. shunning poor patients?

Obama’s wife, 3 aides tied to plan to free up space

BY TIM NOVAK AND CHRIS FUSCO | August 23, 2008

Sen. Barack Obama’s wife and three close advisers have been involved with a program at the University of Chicago Medical Center that steers patients who don’t have private insurance — primarily poor, black people — to other health care facilities.

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.

That is, patients with dough. Or high end insurance that will pay them handsomely.

Obama’s top political strategist, David Axelrod, co-owns the firm, ASK Public Strategies [which invented the practice of ‘astro-turfing’], 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.

Another Obama adviser and close friend, Dr. Eric Whitaker, took over the Urban Health Initiative when he was hired at U. of C. in October 2007. Whitaker previously had been director of the Illinois Department of Public Health. Obama has said he recommended Whitaker for the state job, giving his name to Tony Rezko, who helped Gov. Blagojevich assemble his Cabinet

"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…"

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."

Wow. Even McCain dared to criticize this reprehensible practice.

Axelrod, whose firm stopped working on the project in October, responded that he was concerned that presidential politics was distorting the university’s efforts to improve health care for poor people and to lower costs…

Oh, that’s what it was intended to do. Improve poor people’s healthcare by refusing to treat them.

At the same time, the Urban Health Initiative is improving the university’s finances. Fewer poor patients are showing up at the U. of C. emergency room for basic medical treatment and are no longer admitted to the hospital. That frees beds for transplants, cancer care and other more-profitable medical procedures that the university prides itself on.

In other words, Michelle and Whitaker didn’t want lower paying patients to get in the way of the more high profit patients.

"The collapse of the health care system was driving more and more people to the emergency room," Axelrod said. "The trend line was and is a disastrous one from the standpoint of maintaining the hospital. Their goal was to find an answer."

So they are only taking patients that will best help their bottom line.

Axelrod’s firm did polling and found that some of the university’s primary-care doctors feared the hospital was turning its back on surrounding poor neighborhoods, according to a May 2007 report the firm gave the university.

Axelrod’s firm also suggested the program’s name be changed. "Some participants view the word ‘urban’ as code for ‘black,’ " according to a poll the firm commissioned.

You see, all you have to do is repackage the program and everything will be fine. (Never mind that poor patients are still being turned away so that the hospital can make a bigger profit and pay people like Michelle Obama $317,000 a year for a largely no-show job.)

For the record, the other person mentioned in this article, Dr. Eric Whitaker is still one of Mr. Obama’s closest friends. In fact, it was Whitaker and Valerie Jarrett who got Mrs. Obama her job in the first place. The hospital was then rewarded with millions of dollars in earmarks from State Senator Barack Obama.

This article was posted by Steve Gilbert on Thursday, November 21st, 2013. Comments are currently closed.

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