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IL Senate approves Black Caucus healthcare reforms, massive proposal heads to governor’s desk

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SPRINGFIELD, Ill. - A massive plan to revamp health care in Illinois is heading to Gov. JB Pritzker's desk.

Sen. Mattie Hunter says this is the first major reform to Illinois' health care system in about 11 years. However, the Chicago native's fight to eliminate structural racism in the industry was even longer.

The Senate voted 41-16 to approve the final pillar from the Legislative Black Caucus agenda announced last year. This proposal could allow the Health Facilities and Services Review Board to grant two-month extensions on moratoriums before hospitals in underserved communities close. It also creates a Health and Human Services Task Force and Anti-Racism Commission to recommend solutions to racial inequities in health care.

Health care workers must also complete an hour of implicit bias training per renewal period for licenses or registration.

"We are trailblazers here in the state of Illinois," Hunter said. "We've also been invited to speak at different conferences to show and to advise other states on how to reform their system to address disparities as well as have better outcomes."

The plan also requires the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services to create a program to increase coordination between federally qualified health centers and hospitals in underserved communities. Hunter hopes that can lead to better care and solutions to social determinants of health by the end of 2021.

"In the last year, we've seen thousands of deaths due to COVID-19. We've also seen how racism has intensified the effects of this pandemic on Black Illinoisans," Hunter added. "It's time to take action against the factors that led us here. This groundbreaking initiative will give everyone the opportunity to receive equitable, patient-centered care, regardless of race or socioeconomic status."

Addressing paid sick leave and managed care

Many people struggled to balance care for loved ones and time off of work throughout the pandemic. This proposal allows employees to use personal sick leave benefits to care for their parents or other older family members.

A new commission to evaluate the effectiveness of the state's managed care program is also included in the plan. The state treasury could create a specific fund for HFS to support contracts with minority-owned businesses to meet requirements for the Business Enterprise Program. This bill also requires HFS to create a commission to develop support programs to help grow more businesses owned by minorities, women, and people with disabilities.

Sen. Steve McClure (R-Springfield) appreciated Hunter's dedication to this reform package. He also noted the important discussions the state started about eliminating racism in health care. However, he encouraged senators to vote against the proposal due to the fiscal impact.

"$12 billion would represent almost 30% of the governor's proposed Fiscal Year 2022 general funds budget, which is $41.6 billion. We just can't afford it," McClure said. "And that's really what it comes down to. The $7.5 billion from the recent stimulus is going to help us quite a bit. But, we're still in very rough financial shape right now."

Maternal mortality

Democrats quickly hit back saying they couldn't afford not to pass the plan.

"How can you put a price tag on somebody's life and the quality of life that many people suffered under," asked Sen. Jacqueline Collins (D-Chicago). "I stand it support of this legislation. I stand in support of it because in particular, it measures how to address maternal mortality by increasing access to doulas and home visiting programs."

Collins stressed that women's concerns over their bodies and the wellbeing of their children are too often diminished or ignored. She added that it usually leads to death for women of color in more cases than that of white women.

The bill creates a $50 million grant program to preserve and enhance OB-GYN services for safety-net hospitals. Prenatal doula services and home visiting services would be covered under Medicaid under this plan as well.

Leaders congratulate the Black Caucus

Pritzker applauded the legislation after the vote Thursday afternoon. The Democrat said this plan can build a healthier future for all communities in Illinois.

"From standing up a process to certify and train community health workers, to funding new services like doulas and home visiting, to increasing oversight and transparency around Medicaid managed care system for its customers, this bill roots out racism from our healthcare system and state government – a cause I’m proud to advance. I want to congratulate Senator Hunter and Representative Lilly on bringing the Illinois Health Care and Human Services Reform Act to the finish line as well as Leader Lightford for her transformational leadership passing all pillars of the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus’ agenda," Pritzker stated. "I’m proud to be your partner in shaping the Illinois our residents deserve."

The measure passed out of the House last week on a 72-41 vote. Lt. Governor Juliana Stratton recently mentioned that health care is a human right, not a privilege. She shared that message again to celebrate the bill's passing.

"Far too many people in underserved communities experience anxiety over how they will get the care they need to feel better when they or their loved one is sick. The Illinois Legislative Black Caucus is impacting monumental change that will help improve health and equity in all communities," Stratton stated. "I am so proud of my friends and former colleagues in the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus for guiding home this historic legislation that will positively impact the health and wellbeing of so many Illinois residents."

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Mike Miletich

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