The stench of Chicago cronyism over the White House just got fouler. Inhale this:
A shadowy $10 billion Obamacare agency with zero oversight just awarded first lady Michelle Obama's pet patient-dumping scheme at the University of Chicago Medical Center a $5.9 million taxpayer-funded grant. It will enable Mrs. Obama's cronies to build a government-sponsored electronic medical record-sharing system.
The Chicago program, known as the Urban Health Initiative, is run by one of President Obama's closest golfing buddies, scandal magnet Eric Whitaker, who has been entangled with Illinois corruption celebrities Rod Blagojevich and Tony Rezko over the past decade.
Fun fact: Whitaker recently was named by author Edward Klein as the man who purportedly offered hate-mongering Rev. Jeremiah Wright $150,000 in hush money during the 2008 campaign.
The nearly $6 million grant was announced last week by the "Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation" at the Department of Health and Human Services. White House watchdog journalist Keith Koffler notes that "some 3,000 applications were received for a share on the $1 billion in 3-year grants available. Only 26 programs were included in the first batch of awards doled out." The administration grants circumvent any and all congressional deliberation as part of Team Obama's election-year "We Can't Wait" initiatives.
The grant recipients will help fulfill the mandated Obamacare vision of a centralized patient-record database with unprecedented federal oversight. The provision is being challenged in court by the Goldwater Institute for forcing Americans to share "with millions of strangers who are not physicians confidential private and personal medical history information they do not wish to share."
HHS denies any favoritism, citing a "competitive, objective" process. But as I first reported in March, a Congressional Research Service analysis concluded that Obamacare's Innovation Center is subject to no administrative or judicial review. The Innovation Center director is, in effect, a super-czar without any checks or balances on his grant-making decisions, methods or results.
I warned two months ago that the Obamacare Innovation Center and its multibillion-dollar slush fund smacked of "another pipeline for political payoffs and Chicago-style boodle that will result in less patient autonomy, fewer health-care choices, more government intrusion and lower-quality care."
The University of Chicago Medical Center grant walks and talks like just such a political payoff. I have reported extensively on how Mrs. Obama helped engineer the Urban Health Initiative's plan to offload low-income patients with non-urgent health needs. With consulting help from Obama senior adviser David Axelrod's Chicago-based PR firm and the blessing of fellow Chicago pal Valerie Jarrett (who chaired the hospital's board of trustees), Mrs. Obama sold the scheme to outsource low-income care to other facilities as a way to "dramatically improve health care for thousands of South Side residents."
The program guaranteed "free" shuttle rides to and from the outside clinics. In truth, it was old-fashioned cost-cutting and favor-trading repackaged by a nonprofit, tax-exempt hospital as minority aid. Clearing out the poor freed up room for insured (i.e., more lucrative) patients.
The American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP) blasted MichelleObamacare, expressing "grave concerns that the University of Chicago's policy toward emergency patients is dangerously close to 'patient dumping.'" The group concluded that the Urban Health Initiative "reflected an effort to 'cherry pick' wealthy patients over poor." That practice was made illegal by the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act (EMTALA) signed by President Ronald Reagan.
Bipartisan complaints about impoverished South Side Chicago patients getting the shaft led GOP Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa and Democratic Rep. Bobby Rush of Chicago to challenge the crony hospital's abuse of its nonprofit status and lucrative tax breaks. But the probe went nowhere.
And now, Whitaker will have $6 million more to play with when he's not vacationing with Obama or grappling with subpoenas over possible kickback and pay-for-play schemes while he served as a top health official under now-jailed Illinois. Gov. Blagojevich. One of the probes involves Whitaker's oversight of medical facilities construction projects exploited by now-convicted real-estate shark Tony Rezko.
Anyone who isn't concerned about the privacy implications of this government-funded records-sharing network hasn't been paying attention to how Team Obama and its surrogates are digging for dirt on private citizens who donate to GOP campaigns. But I digress.
Nothing to see or smell here? Discerning eyes and nostrils beg to differ.
Michelle Malkin is the author of "Culture of Corruption: Obama and his Team of Tax Cheats, Crooks & Cronies" (Regnery 2010). Her e-mail address is [email protected]