Illinois Mental Health Parity Bill Passes House, Moves to Senate

(Springfield) — Illinois Senate Bill 1707, described by the Kennedy Forum Illinois as “the strongest mental health parity law in the nation,” passed the House on May 30 with a 106-9 vote. Sponsored by House Deputy Majority Leader Lou Lang, the bill strengthens parity law, increasing compliance and access to treatment, so that health insurance plans cover mental illness and addictions on par with other medical conditions.

TASC is part of a broad coalition of support for the legislation, which now moves to the Senate for concurrence. Senator Kwame Raoul is the bill’s lead sponsor in the Senate.


With thanks for permission to share, below is the May 30 news release from the Kennedy Forum Illinois:

Illinois families and individuals struggling with mental health and addiction challenges won hard-fought victory for better access to services today. On a strong bipartisan vote of 106-9, the Illinois House of Representatives just passed Senate Bill 1707 – the strongest mental health parity law in the nation. The bill now goes onto the Senate for a vote, possibly as soon as today.

SB1707 is the result of a multi-year Kennedy Forum Illinois campaign to improve parity law enforcement so that people with mental health and addiction challenges can access the treatment they need as required by state and federal law. As part of this campaign, The Kennedy Forum Illinois convened an Illinois Parity Implementation Workgroup with nearly 30 member organizations and spearheaded an Illinois provider survey on the frequency of mental health and addiction treatment denials with key partners.

These efforts resulted in numerous media articles on the damage that mental health and addiction coverage discrimination causes, as well as two House Mental Health Committee hearings on parity, including one on how inadequate parity compliance is helping to fuel our state’s ongoing opioid epidemic, which continues to worsen and killed 2,100 last year.

Specifically, this landmark legislation:

  • Tackles the Opioid Crisis by expanding access to life-saving addiction treatment.

    • The bill prohibits prior authorization and step-therapy requirements for FDA-approved medications to treat substance use disorders;

    • Requires generic FDA-approved medications for substance use disorders to be on lowest-tier of prescription formularies, with branded medications on the lowest tier for branded medications;

    • Prohibits exclusions of prescription coverage and related support services for substance use disorder because they are court ordered, and

    • Requires state regulators to actively ensure plan compliance with parity law utilizing information provided by plans/MCOs and through independent oversight.

  • Increases transparency by requiring health plans to submit parity compliance analyses to the Illinois Dept. of Insurance and the Illinois Dept. of Healthcare and Family Services that align with The Kennedy Forum’s six-step process that shows compliance with federal parity rules and requires plans/MCOs to make parity compliance information available to DOI, HFS, and to individuals via a public website.

  • Improves parity enforcement by requiring the Departments to conduct market conduct examinations/parity compliance audits and report on their enforcement activities annually to the General Assembly and requires the Illinois Auditor General to review implementation state parity law and report to the General Assembly.

  • Closes a loophole in state law that allowed school district health plans to discriminate against mental health and addiction coverage.

By improving accountability and transparency, this legislation will increase parity compliance and access to needed treatment. While there remains much work left to do to end coverage discrimination, SB1707 represents a major milestone not just in Illinois, but the country as a whole.

The Kennedy Forum Illinois thanks Rep. Lou Lang for his tireless leadership on mental health and addiction parity, as well as the Illinois Association for Behavioral Health for its partnership in helping to advance this important legislation. Many thanks also to our numerous partners* for their steadfast support.

*Thank You Supporters and Coalition Members!
American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, American Nurses Association-Illinois, American Psychiatric Association, Chicago Urban League, Community Behavioral Healthcare Association, Depression & Bipolar Support Alliance, Family Guidance Centers, Gateway Foundation, Health & Medicine Policy Research Group, IARF, Illinois Association for Behavioral Health, Illinois Collaboration on Youth, Illinois State Medical Society, Illinois Society for Advanced Practice Nursing, Illinois Psychiatric Society, Live4Lali, NAMI Barrington Area, NAMI Chicago, NAMI Illinois, Rosecrance, Safer Foundation, Smart Policy Works, Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law, TASC, Thresholds


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TASC, Partners Launch Supportive Release Center by Cook County Jail

(Chicago) – In collaboration with the University of Chicago Health Lab, the Cook County Sheriff’s Office, and Heartland Health Outreach, on July 26, 2017, Treatment Alternatives for Safe Communities (TASC) announced the launch of the Supportive Release Center (SRC), an innovative new program that provides short-term, critical services to people with high needs as they are released from the Cook County Jail.

SRC Ribbon Cutting

Supportive Release Center Ribbon Cutting, July 26, 2017. Left to right: Pamela F. Rodriguez, TASC; Dr. David Meltzer, University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy; Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart; Dr. Daniel Diermeier, University of Chicago; Ed Stellon, Heartland Health Outreach; Dr. Harold Pollack, University of Chicago Urban Labs.

The SRC offers a brief overnight stay and linkages to community-based services for individuals who are struggling with mental illness, substance use disorders, or homelessness.

The facility, owned and administered by TASC, is located just blocks away from the Cook County Jail. It offers a “softer landing” for vulnerable persons who are being released from the jail, with the goal of reducing re-arrests, future incarceration, adverse health outcomes, and future incidents of homelessness.

SRC Exterior

 

SRC Interior with Staff

At the Cook County Jail—the largest single site jail in the United States—staff estimate that at least 30 percent of the daily population is living with some form of mental illness. An April 2016 survey study conducted by the UChicago Health Lab found that over 70 percent of respondents being released from Cook County Jail indicated some form of mental illness, substance use disorder, or other acute need, including feeling unsafe leaving the jail or an immediate need for medical care. More than one in three of those leaving the jail with indications of mental illness and substance use disorders were re-arrested within just five months of release. With approximately 70,000 individuals passing through the jail each year, the need to better serve individuals as they transition out of the jail has become a pressing public health concern.

“We know that people released from jail often don’t have a safe place to go, especially if they are facing addiction, mental illness, or homelessness,” said TASC President Pam Rodriguez. “The SRC represents a collective effort of partners in the nonprofit sector, academia, government—and supported by private donors—to create a better path to health and safety.”

The Cook County Sheriff’s Office provides assistance in assessing and recruiting people for the center as they are leaving the jail. Participation in the SRC is voluntary, and interested participants are transported to the SRC by TASC staff, where they receive light food, clothing, and access to showers. TASC staff at the SRC conduct needs assessments and facilitate linkages to services in the community, including substance use treatment, mental health services, supportive housing, job training programs, and legal aid resources.

Participants also have access to an advanced practice nurse (APN) on-site, to provide immediate medical care and any necessary prescription medications. For those individuals who are identified as being homeless, Heartland Alliance Health is offering longer-term, more intensive case management services. The University of Chicago Health Lab is evaluating the project.

SRC partners group

SRC partners gather to celebrate the center’s launch.

The SRC was the winner of the Health Lab’s 2015 Innovation Challenge, which sought to identify and evaluate the most promising solutions to pressing challenges in public health.

Along with the University of Chicago Health Lab, numerous foundations and donors have contributed to the development of the SRC, including: Blue Cross Blue Shield of Illinois, The Chicago Community Trust, Crown Family Philanthropies, Michael Reese Health Trust, Margot and Thomas Pritzker Family Foundation, Reynolds Family Foundation, The Siragusa Family Foundation, and SixDegrees.org.

Congratulations to 2016 Integrated Behavioral Health Interns

(Chicago) – Post-graduate interns with the Integrated Community Behavioral Health Training Consortium (ICBHTC) completed their capstone projects on May 3, having gained skills and knowledge in the treatment of substance use disorders, mental health, and TASC’s interface with the justice system.

ICBHTC is an innovative, multidisciplinary post-graduate internship program designed to develop health care leaders equipped to address the pressing primary and behavioral health needs and disparities of vulnerable, at-risk individuals and groups.

Now graduating its second class of interns, the program was initiated in 2013 through a collaboration of Chicago-area graduate programs, including Governors State University, the University of Illinois at Chicago’s School of Public Health, the Chicago School of Professional Psychology, the Illinois Area Health Education Centers, and TASC. The effort has been guided and supported by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s Region 5, led by Captain Jeff Coady.

The program places student interns in criminal justice and community-based settings, and facilitates weekly multidisciplinary seminars. Student interns gain clinical, public health, and policy knowledge that offers an integrated experience reflective of the need for person-centered health care inclusive of substance use and mental health treatment and evolving health care delivery systems.

2016 ICBHTC Intern Class (left to right): Amanda Auerbach, Jessica Garner, Cassandra Simmons, Jennifer Chmura, Delilah Portalatin, Anthony Barlog. Not pictured: Rebecca Gonzalez.

2016 ICBHTC Intern Class (left to right): Amanda Auerbach, Jessica Garner, Cassandra Simmons, Jennifer Chmura, Delilah Portalatin, Anthony Barlog. Not pictured: Rebecca Gonzalez.

Sheriff Tom Dart, Bill O’Donnell Receive TASC Leadership Awards; Access to Healthcare and Recovery Highlighted at Annual Event

(Chicago) – TASC held its 2015 Leadership Awards Luncheon on December 10, honoring Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart and entrepreneur Bill O’Donnell for their advocacy on behalf of people with mental health and substance use disorders.

“Sheriff Dart has called national attention to the injustice of using county jails to house people with mental health conditions,” said TASC President Pam Rodriguez in presenting TASC’s Justice Leadership Award. “He has supported Medicaid enrollment and other activities to ensure continuity of care for people detained at the Cook County Jail.”

To the applause of more than 300 guests at the Westin Michigan Avenue in Chicago, Dart reported that 12,000 people have successfully signed up for insurance at the jail via the Affordable Care Act (ACA). “People who never had insurance now have insurance,” he said. “It is absolutely amazing what this collective work has done.”

Since 2013, the Cook County Sheriff’s Office, working with TASC and the Cook County Health and Hospitals System, has enabled individuals detained at the jail to apply for health insurance. Prior to the expansion of Medicaid under the ACA, the vast majority of people entering U.S. jails lacked insurance, hindering their access to treatment for chronic substance use and mental health conditions that often contribute to rearrest.

The prevalence of these conditions in the justice system is not new, Dart observed. “These are issues that have been around for a while. And it’s with partnerships, working with TASC, that we’ve been able to make incredible change.”

TASC Public Voice Award Recipient Bill O’Donnell noted that he might well have gone to jail for his behavior while he was in the throes of addiction. Coming from a family driven to “achieve, achieve, achieve,” O’Donnell was a successful businessman who became addicted to alcohol and cocaine in the 1970s.

“It wasn’t until I got into treatment the second or third time… that I ever asked myself the question, ‘Why is it that I even need the marijuana, the booze, the coke, to change the way I felt?’” O’Donnell recalled. “Recovery and life and awareness is an inside job. You get can get help, you can get direction, you can get love, you can get guidance—but it’s an inside job.”

O’Donnell went on to found Sierra Tucson in 1983, an internationally-recognized treatment center that was among the first to involve family members in the recovery process.

TASC Executive Vice President Peter Palanca praised O’Donnell for his openness and high-profile voice for recovery. “Twenty-three million are in long-term recovery in this country and it’s still the most stigmatized illness,” said Palanca. “Bill was one of the first corporate leaders to speak openly about his addiction. He is a powerful voice for recovery.”

The value of helping one another was highlighted in two videos accompanying speakers’ remarks. Dart introduced a video depicting personal stories of people who now have health insurance thanks to enrollment efforts at the jail, and Rodriguez presented a video featuring participants in Winners’ Circles, which are peer-led recovery support groups for people who have been involved in the justice system.

TASC has been engaged in initiatives at the intersection of health and social justice since 1976, explained TASC Board Chair Cecil Curtwright. “I believe that our highest human calling is to help others—directly, if possible, and if not possible, to support those who do, with whatever means and talents available to us,” said Curtwright, who is the associate vice provost for academic and enrollment services at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Among other dignitaries attending TASC’s event were previous honorees, including Gino DiVito, retired appellate court justice; Melody Heaps, TASC founder and president emeritus; and Toni Preckwinkle, president of the Cook County Board of Commissioners.

Chairing TASC’s 2015 event committee was John Zielinski, vice president and financial advisor at William Blair, who, along with other volunteers and generous donors, guided TASC’s most successful fundraising campaign to date. Zielinski extended special thanks to Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Illinois, the presenting sponsor of the event, along with numerous other generous sponsors and raffle prize donors.

“TASC is successful because we work together,” said Rodriguez. “Thanks to science and treatment parity, thanks to the Affordable Care Act and the efforts of TASC and our community partners, and especially thanks to all of you, more and more men and women are finding the treatment, the support, and the hope and tenacity needed to build and strengthen those delicate roots into lifetimes of recovery.”

TASC 2015 Leadership Awards Luncheon. Left to right: TASC Board Chair Cecil Curtwright, Justice Leadership Award Honoree Tom Dart, Public Voice Leadership Award Honoree Bill O'Donnell, TASC President Pam Rodriguez. Photo by Uk Studio.

TASC 2015 Leadership Awards Luncheon in Chicago. Left to right: TASC Board Chair Cecil Curtwright, Justice Leadership Honoree Tom Dart, Public Voice Leadership Honoree Bill O’Donnell, TASC President Pam Rodriguez.

Supporters filled the Westin Michigan Avenue ballroom for TASC's 2015 Leadership Awards Luncheon. Photo by Uk Studio.

Supporters filled the Westin Michigan Avenue ballroom for TASC’s 2015 Leadership Awards Luncheon. Photos by Uk Studio.

2015 Urban Labs Innovation Challenge Winners: TASC, Cook County Sheriff’s Office, Heartland Alliance Earn Grant for Supportive Release Center

(Chicago) – The University of Chicago announced the winners of the Urban Labs 2015 Innovation Challenge grants on October 12, including a $1M grant to TASC, the Heartland Alliance, and the Cook County Sheriff’s Office to support people with mental illness as they are released from the Cook County Jail.

Timothy Knowles, the Pritzker Director of Urban Labs, and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel made the announcement during a Chicago Ideas Week event, which included a panel discussion with WomenOnCall.org founder and President Margot Pritzker, Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter, and host Cheryl Corley of NPR.

The 2015 Urban Labs Innovation Challenge focused on the areas of health, poverty, and energy and the environment. Advisory committees comprising civic leaders, practitioners, funders, and academic experts selected the grant winners from a pool of more than 100 applicants.

The grant will enable the launch of a Supportive Release Center to help individuals with mental illness transition to services in their communities following their release from the Cook County Jail. It also will include rigorous evaluation—conducted by the Health Lab—to empirically examine outcomes and better inform practitioners and policymakers about its effectiveness, cost-efficiency, and potential scalability in the long run.

“We are honored to partner with the University of Chicago Urban Labs, Heartland Alliance, and the Cook County Sheriff’s Office to develop solutions to the issues faced by people with mental illness who are leaving the jail,” said TASC President Pam Rodriguez. “This will help us create a safe, supportive environment to facilitate access to care. The project also will be closely evaluated, using a random controlled research design, so that it has the potential to become an evidence-based practice that could be replicated nationwide.”

The Urban Labs’ collaborative approach recognizes that many long-term challenges in cities are related, and require unified responses. Public-private partnerships are central to the approach of the project, and in fact Blue Cross Blue Shield of Illinois already has made a $50,000 commitment toward the Supportive Release Center.

The Cook County Jail admits approximately 100,000 men and women annually. Among the average daily population of 9,000, 20 to 30 percent are estimated to have a mental illness.

The project builds upon other collaborative strategies to improve access to health care for people leaving the jail. These aligned and reinforcing efforts include the Justice and Health Initiative funded by The Chicago Community Trust, the Justice Advisory Council, and the Cook County Health and Hospitals System, as well as the planning and pilot project funded by the Michael Reese Health Trust, and the service network innovation collaborative funded by the Polk Bros. Foundation.

For additional coverage of the announcement, see articles in the Chicago Tribune, Chicago Inno, DNAChicago, UChicagoNews, and social media posts at #InnovationChallenge.