Gov. J.B. Pritzker on Tuesday signed into law a wide-ranging bill promoting health care equity for Black, Hispanic and low-income patients by enhancing mental health services, requiring bias training for doctors and creating a community health worker program.
"This legislation advances a key belief of mine that I know is shared by everyone standing with me and millions of residents across Illinois — health care is a right, not a privilege," Pritzker said at a bill-signing ceremony for House Bill 158 in Springfield at Memorial Medical Center's Memorial Center for Learning and Innovation.
"Justice isn't just about what happens in a courtroom," the governor said. "Justice is access to economic opportunity, to a great education, and yes, to affordable, quality, personalized health care. It's about recognizing that communities across our state have been left out and left behind, and then doing something about that."
The Democratic governor was surrounded by the bill's main sponsors, state Sen. Mattie Hunter and Rep. Camille Lilly, both Chicago Democrats, as well as about a dozen other supporters, including Memorial Health System chief executive officer Ed Curtis, House Speaker Emanuel "Chris" Welch, D-Chicago, Senate President Don Harmon, D-Oak Park, and Dr. Kari Wolf, chairwoman of psychiatry at Southern Illinois University School of Medicine.
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Pritzker gave tribute to the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus, which passed legislation this year to support four "pillars" to reduce structural racism in the wake of the 2020 death of George Floyd at the hands of police in Minneapolis.
The Illinois Health Care and Human Services Reform Act was the fourth and final pillar of the caucus' agenda to be passed and signed into law. The other pillars dealt with criminal justice, education and economic equity, and all but HB 158 were passed during the legislature's "lame duck" session in January, when Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, presided as House speaker.
HB 159 received no Republican votes in the House and only one in the Senate, from John Curran of Downers Gove. Republicans didn't criticize the substance of the bill but said the state can't afford the estimated cost of all the provisions — $4 billion to $12 billion annually.
"Things have just gone off the rails in this state," said state Sen. Steve McClure, R-Springfield. "We want people to get help, but we are broke. It's all about the cost of it. The fact that this was rushed through was troubling."
Even if the state used all of the $7.5 billion expected through President Joe Biden's latest COVID-19 economic stimulus package to implement the bill, the federal money would provide only a one-time influx of cash, McClure said.
Eleni Demertzis, spokeswoman for Republicans who are in the super-minority in the Illinois House, said: "The governor signed a bill that will cost billions of dollars of fantasy money we just don't have. Anyone who believes his inaccurate rhetoric on costs of this bill should refer to his false statements on independent redistricting."
Pritzker, who called the health care legislation "sweeping," said the estimates of cost given by Republicans were inaccurate, but he didn't provide his own estimate.
"We're going to work very hard to implement the provisions of this law," Pritzker said.
After the bill-signing Pritzker aide Jordan Abudayyeh responded in an email to the Republican criticisms about cost.
"As has been well-documented, preventive care is a smart investment that saves money in the long run," Abudayyeh said.
She said the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services "estimates the state cost will be about $50 million, subject to appropriation, with potential additional components subject to review in this year's budget process."
Abudayyeh added: "The Republicans are using an old analysis of the bill from when it was introduced. The bill was heavily negotiated and amended throughout the process. I guess the Republicans are just hoping no one read the final legislation so their lies would work."
McClure stood by the Republicans' cost estimate, which he said came from Healthcare and Family Services and never was altered by the agency.
The bill creates the Underlying Causes of Crime and Violence Study Act, which will study how to identify high-violence communities and prioritize state dollars to address issues related to violence.
The bill also requires Medicaid to cover doula and home-visiting services for pregnant women and allows workers to use their sick days to care for children, parents, stepparents, in-laws and grandparents. Costs would be reduced for blood-sugar testing products.
The legislation says a state board that approves hospital closures will have to first conduct a racial-equity impact assessment, and a task force and commissions will be created to look at improving health care outcomes, propose statewide policies to eliminate systemic racism and reduce racial and income-related health care disparities.
The bill also increases Medicaid payments rates for psychiatric treatment at hospitals serving primarily low-income patients and enhances dementia training requirements for the Illinois Department on Aging.
Hunter said the COVID-19 pandemic "has underlined the systemic economic, educational and health disparities that have historically plagued African Americans across our country. For centuries, Black people have been disrespected, abused and misused in the name of health care, starting with the abuse of the enslaved."
Lilly said the health care pillar is "the first step" toward achieving health care equity. She said the legislation is among the most important parts of the Black caucus' agenda "because if you don't have your health, you don't have much else."
Curtis, the Memorial CEO, said the bill was a "transformative piece of legislation that is going to benefit us all.
"I'm very proud to live in the state of Illinois, that I love, was born in," he said. "I have four generations living here in this community, I'll never leave Illinois, and that's why I'm so proud of this governor, his administration and the work that they are doing."