Signing ceremony also highlights statewide blood shortage
By PETER HANCOCK
Capitol News Illinois
SPRINGFIELD – Illinois residents who have health coverage through Medicaid now have access to a broad range of services including mental health counseling, substance abuse treatment, smoking cessation and dental services.
Gov. JB Pritzker on Tuesday signed Senate Bill 2294, which passed unanimously out of both chambers during the spring legislative session.
“This legislation that I’m signing into law today is a product of our passionately dedicated, bipartisan, bicameral group of legislators who are part of the Medicaid legislative working group,” Pritzker said at a bill signing ceremony in suburban Chicago. “… For all the naysayers that always seem to bad-talk the state of Illinois, few other states can say that they have an annual commitment shared across both sides of the aisle to hash out how to make health care access for millions of Illinoisans who rely on Medicaid even better.”
Among many provisions, the bill provides that people covered under Medicaid will continue to be eligible throughout the COVID-19 public health emergency and for up to 12 months after the emergency expires.
It also calls on the Department of Healthcare and Family Services to establish a program for implementation of certified community behavioral health clinics by Jan. 1, 2022, and to develop a “comprehensive behavioral health strategy” that is to be submitted to the governor and General Assembly by July 1, 2022.
Other provisions include recognizing veteran support specialists as mental health professionals under the state’s Medicaid plan; coverage of both individual and group tobacco cessation programs; requiring in-patient treatment for anyone experiencing an opioid overdose or withdrawal if it’s determined to be medically necessary; coverage of kidney transplant medications regardless of a patient’s U.S. residency status; and providing a 10 percent increase, through March 31, 2022, in reimbursement rates for supportive living facilities, to be paid for with federal funds from the American Rescue Plan Act.
House Majority Leader Greg Harris, a Chicago Democrat and member of the Medicaid working group, said this year’s bill is aimed at addressing many of the health care disparities that have existed in Illinois for years but which were exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It’s something we in the legislature do every year to improve health care for people in every corner of the state of Illinois, but this will be really the first post-COVID omnibus bill,” he said. “And in this, we’ve learned a lot of lessons from the last year about inequities and disparities and communities hardest hit by COVID. Many of these are covered by Illinois Medicaid. Some of these folks were not covered at all. So today is a step one of many steps to expand coverage and access to make it more user friendly and reduce disparities for people to get health care.”
Critical blood shortage
Tuesday’s bill signing took place at Advocate Good Samaritan Hospital in Downers Grove, a southwest suburb of Chicago, where health care officials were also conducting a blood drive to address a critical shortage that’s being experienced throughout the state and the country.
Bill Rhoades, chief medical officer at the hospital, said blood usage nationwide has risen about 10 percent recently, due largely to increased visits to emergency rooms.
Joy Squier, regional communications officer for the American Red Cross in Illinois, said the shortage is especially critical as the nation heads into the peak of summer activity.
“While summer is traditionally a time when blood donations do decline, this year is particularly challenging as many Americans receive their vaccinations, resume summer activities, and after more than a year of limited interactions, are doing what’s fun and what we all want to do,” she said. “But it’s leading to lower turnout.”
She said people can schedule an appointment to donate at a blood bank in their area by visiting the website RedCrossBlood.org, or by calling 1-800-RED CROSS (1-800-733-2767).
Capitol News Illinois is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news service covering state government and distributed to more than 400 newspapers statewide. It is funded primarily by the Illinois Press Foundation and the Robert R. McCormick Foundation.