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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Senate Panel OKs Bush Bill to Give Police, Communities “Road Map” to Fight Opioid Crisis

(Grayslake, IL) – An Illinois Senate panel has approved a bipartisan plan that authorizes local police departments and community partners to develop local strategies to fight the Illinois opioid crisis.

The Senate Human Services Committee on April 10 voted 8-0 to advance legislation, Senate Bill 3023, that encourages local law enforcement to “deflect” from criminal arrest individuals who have overdosed or who have substance use problems, directing them instead into substance use disorder treatment.

The “Community-Law Enforcement Partnership for Deflection and Substance Use Disorder Treatment Act,” which is sponsored by State Senator Melinda Bush (D-Grayslake) and State Senator Tim Bivins (R-Dixon), provides a “roadmap” for partnerships between law enforcement, substance use treatment providers, and community members to guide the development of deflection programs in their communities, according to one of the bill’s chief proponents.

“Traditionally, local police have had two choices when faced with someone who they believe may have a substance use disorder—to arrest or to not arrest,” said Treatment Alternatives for Safe Communities (TASC) President Pam Rodriguez. “With the opioid crisis raging across the state, deflection provides a third option, to connect people with community-based substance use treatment services that address their underlying substance use problems. This bill lays out a roadmap to municipalities, offering guidance, program features, and a range of options.”

The number of Illinois overdose deaths from all opioids increased by 82% from 2013 to 2016.

The bill, which is also an initiative of the Village of Mundelein’s police chief and director of public safety, Eric Guenther, and the City of Dixon’s former police chief and current city manager, Danny Langloss, ensures that the impact of the programs is measured by requiring the Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority (ICJIA) to lead the development of a set of minimum data to be collected and, for programs that receive funding, serve as a performance measurement system. Mundelein and Dixon’s police departments already operate deflection programs.

“The data collection provisions also provide a platform for ensuring that the racial disparities present in the criminal justice system can be prevented in deflection programs as they develop,” said Rodriguez. “The data collection and analysis are a crucial component.”

At the Senate committee hearing, a diverse group of 157 proponents filed their support for the legislation, including the League of Women Voters of Illinois, Illinois State University Police, the Illinois State Medical Society, the Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police, Illinois State’s Attorneys Association, the Chicago Urban League, and the City of Chicago Heights, among others.

Rodriguez also expressed her appreciation of the bipartisan leadership of Senators Bush and Bivins.

“We must recognize the bipartisan leadership of Senator Bush and Senator Bivins for advancing this legislation and their commitment to fighting the opioid scourge in Illinois,” said Rodriguez. “Because of them, Illinois is the first state in the nation to consider deflection legislation this comprehensive.”

The bill now faces the full Senate.

Leaders in Transforming Health and Justice Recognized at TASC’s 2017 Leadership Awards Luncheon

(Chicago) – Nearly 300 guests attended TASC’s 2017 Leadership Awards Luncheon in Chicago on December 14 to honor Jessica Hulsey Nickel and Howard A. Peters III, respected champions of health and justice reforms.

Speakers shared inspiring tributes and echoed the importance of uplifting people who need help, and creating a society where fairness and access to health are the norms.

“I know firsthand the impact that substance abuse can have on individuals’ lives and the collateral damage that can occur among families when a loved one has the illness of addiction,” said TASC Board Vice Chair and Event Committee Chair John Zielinski in opening the event at the Westin Michigan Avenue. “I also know and believe in the importance of second chances. People can and do recover.”

TASC Board Chair Michelle Montgomery spoke of the importance of TASC’s work in diverting people who have with underlying substance use or mental health problems away from the justice system, and instead into treatment and other services in the community. She emphasized the need to address racial discrimination in the criminal justice system, where people of color are more likely to be arrested, to be offered a plea that includes prison time, and more likely to serve longer sentences than white Americans who commit the same offenses.

“This is devastating, and it is wrong,” said Montgomery. “We know that once an individual comes into contact with the justice system, it becomes exponentially harder to recover.

“Incarceration affects not just the individual—it severely disrupts whole families through multiple generations, devastating entire communities. As I speak, we are seeing this both in Illinois and across the nation. That is why I believe so strongly in TASC’s work in disrupting these cycles.”

Howard Peters Accepts TASC’s 2017 Justice Leadership Award

With a mission of addressing these inequities, TASC presents its Justice Leadership Award each year to a leader who has demonstrated a commitment to creating fairer, more equitable systems of justice.

With a long career of service leadership, including as director of the Illinois Department of Corrections, and later as the first secretary of what became the Illinois Department of Human Services, Howard Peters, TASC’s 2017 Justice Leadership honoree, “has the perspective and vision of a leader who has worked on all sides of the issues we address, from criminal justice to human services to healthcare,” said TASC President Pam Rodriguez in presenting the award.

It was under Peters’ leadership of IDOC in the early 1990s that TASC began to offer pre- and post-release case management services for individuals leaving certain state prisons in Illinois, noted Rodriguez. Later, as the head of DHS, he oversaw all state-administered human services, including substance use and mental health, employment programs, youth services, and other programs that address poverty.

“He understands the interconnection of all these issues, and how the solutions to problems need to be comprehensive and inclusive,” said Rodriguez, who served alongside Peters on the recent Illinois State Commission on Criminal Justice and Sentencing Reform. “When he would speak, he would change the conversation. He would ask questions that would cause people to think differently and strategize in new ways… His steady voice, deep compassion, and consistent leadership are part of what shape the criminal justice reforms happening in Illinois today.”

In accepting TASC’s award, Peters gave special credit those who shaped his early years, and who instilled in him a sense of obligation to do good in the world.

“Whatever are our accomplishments, no matter how grand or modest, they aren’t ours alone,” he said, sharing stories of how he was influenced and inspired by his mother, his grandmother, an influential second grade teacher, an inspiring college mentor, and his wife of 50 years, Beverly Peters.

“We are obligated to serve, we are obligated to support good work,” he said. “And that is why I am proud today to be in this room with you—because you are engaged in important work, you are supporting work that will determine whether children across Illinois will survive… and how well they will survive, and whether we will have a society in which we can take pride.”

Jessica Nickel Accepts TASC’s 2017 Public Voice Leadership Award

Creating such a society is also the life’s work of Jessica Nickel, TASC’s 2017 Public Voice Award Honoree and founder of the national Addiction Policy Forum.

Nickel played a critical leadership role in shaping and advancing federal legislation to improve justice and support recovery, including the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act of 2016, which supports a wide range of responses to addiction, including criminal justice diversion initiatives, and the Second Chance Act, which has transformed the landscape of reentry programs across the country since it was signed into law in 2008.

“I have known Jessica for more than a decade, and from the start, she impressed me with her sense of urgency, her deep commitment, and her unwavering belief that we can – and must – give hope and help to families that are dealing with addiction,” said Rodriguez.

In accepting the award, Nickel noted that the Second Chance Act, co-sponsored by Illinois Congressman Danny K. Davis and Ohio Congressman (now Senator) Rob Portman, came about with the intent to re-envision how people reenter the community after jail and prison. Through this work, Nickel was introduced to TASC leaders Rodriguez, then vice president of TASC; TASC Vice President of Community and Government Affairs George Williams; and Melody Heaps, then president (now retired) of TASC.

“I’m proud of that work, and grateful and proud of the cooperation with TASC,” said Nickel.

Modeling this collaborative model of engagement that propelled the ongoing success of the Second Chance Act, Nickel is dedicated to changing the way society responds to addiction.

“Let’s re-envision how we respond to addiction in this country,” said Nickel. “Instead of playing whack-a-mole with one drug against the other… or playing that sort of favorite child of which response we’re going to work on—treatment or prevention or recovery or criminal justice—let’s put our heads together and think of something different.”

With this commitment, Nickel has assembled leading experts who understand addiction as a public health issue, and, in a short time, has built a strong and growing coalition of families, advocates, policymakers, community leaders, and corporations who share in this commitment.

“Through her voice, her organizing ability, her passion, and her impressive, first-hand knowledge of how to make major policy changes happen, Jessica is helping communities across the country make strides against addiction and its consequences. She’s bringing forth practical solutions… to help families and communities that want to know what works and what they can do,” said Rodriguez.

Among the luncheon guests were three past TASC Leadership Award recipients: retired WGN News Anchor Robert Jordan (2013 Public Voice Leadership Award), Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle (2011 Public Voice Leadership Award), and Heaps (2010 Justice Leadership Award), who founded TASC as an Illinois nonprofit organization in 1976.

Also recognized were TASC’s 2017 event sponsors: elite sponsor Alkermes; select sponsors: John Greene and William Blair; and friend of TASC sponsors Yes Lifecycle Marketing, Gateway, BMO Harris Bank, HAS, Janssen, Meridian Health, and Rosecrance; with thanks also to numerous advocate sponsors, community sponsors, and raffle prize donors.

2017 TASC Leadership Awards Luncheon — Back row (l. to r.): Sue Thau, Toni Preckwinkle, Jessica Nickel, Pam Rodriguez. Front row: Howard Peters IV, Howard Peters III, Beverly Peters. (Photo by Uk Studio, Inc.)

Addiction Policy Forum Announces New Initiatives and Partnerships to Address the Opioid Crisis

(Chicago) — The Addiction Policy Forum, of which TASC is a national partner, has announced several new initiatives to help families in the United States struggling with opioid addiction and other substance use disorders. The programs put in motion key elements of the organization’s multi-year plan announced in October, which offers a comprehensive approach to addressing the growing opioid epidemic.

The Addiction Policy Forum is led by Jessica Hulsey Nickel, who will receive TASC’s 2017 Public Voice Leadership Award at TASC’s annual luncheon in Chicago on December 14.

“The Addiction Policy Forum is making important progress in addressing the disease of addiction,” said TASC President Pam Rodriguez. “A multi-faceted approach is needed for this complex challenge we face as a country. We look forward to working with the Forum on evidence-based programs that aim to improve the criminal justice response to substance use disorders.”

As active partners in the Forum since its inception in 2015, TASC and its Center for Health and Justice offer practical experience and expertise in criminal justice diversion and reentry strategies, while also promoting innovative programs that are making a difference in communities across the country.

“We hear all too often that families and community leaders don’t know where to turn for services that can help loved ones who are in crisis – or prevent the crisis from happening in the first place,” said Nickel, president and chief executive officer of the Addiction Policy Forum. “By working closely to families and experts in the field, we’re creating localized resources and evidence-based tools that will make a real difference in addressing substance use disorders. We are grateful to all of our partner organizations for their ongoing commitment to this important issue.”

The Addiction Policy Forum represents a diverse partnership of organizations, policymakers, and stakeholders committed to working together to elevate awareness around addiction, and to improve programs and policy through a comprehensive response that includes prevention, treatment, recovery, and criminal justice reform.

National Public Health Emergency Declared in Face of Opioid Crisis; TASC and Partners Collaborating to Offer Solutions and Strategies

(Chicago) – Drug overdoses killed more than 64,000 people in the United States in 2016, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That’s an average of 175 people per day.

On October 26, President Trump declared the opioid crisis a national public health emergency, “directing all executive agencies to use every appropriate emergency authority to fight the opioid crisis.”

In his announcement, the President indicated that a new policy would overcome the Institutions for Mental Diseases (IMD) exclusion that disallows Medicaid payment for certain services at substance use disorder treatment facilities that have more than 16 beds. He also discussed measures to confront illegal drug trafficking, improve safe prescribing practices, and develop non-addictive painkillers.

No requests for federal funding were attached to the announcement.

“What’s important for people to know is that, with funding, there are solutions that can be brought to bear on this crisis,” said TASC President Pam Rodriguez. “From Chicago to Rockford to the Metro-East region of Illinois, and from Maryland to Ohio, we have been working closely with communities severely affected by this crisis. We are finding and delivering solutions together.”

Nationally, the Addiction Policy Forum, of which TASC is a partner, shares innovative approaches happening in communities across the country, from home-based treatment to family recovery initiatives. Earlier this week, APF shared eight priorities to address addiction in the United States, from helping families in crisis to expanding treatment access to reframing criminal justice.

Collaborative Solutions and Strategies for Justice Systems

Opioid use disorders are highly prevalent among criminal justice populations, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Furthermore, a Washington State study showed that the risk of dying within the first two weeks of release from prison are 12 times higher than for other state residents, with overdose being the leading cause of death.

Working with expert researchers, justice leaders, and practitioners across the country, the Center for Health and Justice at TASC has developed collaborative opioid response strategies and solutions for all points in the justice system, beginning with law enforcement and through to parole.

“As first responders, law enforcement officers often are on the front lines of the epidemic. Not only can they carry naloxone to revive individuals who have overdosed, but can save a lives again by placing people in treatment instead of arresting them,” said Jac Charlier, national director for justice initiatives at the Center for Health and Justice at TASC.

“When police, treatment, and communities work together, there’s an array of public health responses that can happen pre-arrest, before people enter the justice system.”

To this end, TASC is a founding partner in the Policy, Treatment, and Community (PTAC) Collaborative, whose mission is to increase health and public safety by widening community and behavioral health and social service options available through law enforcement diversion. Sharing research and information on robust partnerships to confront the opioid crisis in local jurisdictions, the PTAC Collaborative will hold its inaugural conference on pre-arrest diversion in March 2018.

TASC’s Center for Health and Justice also has worked with partners to develop collaborative responses for jails, courts, and reentry phases of the justice system, as well as tools and strategies that span the continuum, including rapid assessment and treatment capacity expansion.

Additionally, the American Association for the Treatment of Opioid Dependence released a fact sheet earlier this week on the use of medication-assisted treatment for opioid use disorder in the justice system. TASC participated in the expert panel cited in the report.

“Families and communities are hurting,” said Rodriguez. “We’re joining forces with policymakers, justice leaders, and practitioners to help people and communities get the services they need. We need to keep people alive.”

To learn more, visit the Center for Health and Justice (CHJ) at TASC, or contact Jac Charlier, national director for justice initiatives at CHJ.

2017 TASC Leadership Award Honorees Announced

(Chicago) – Howard A. Peters III and Jessica Hulsey Nickel, longtime advocates in the fields of criminal justice and healthcare policy, will accept TASC’s 2017 Leadership Awards at the agency’s annual luncheon in Chicago on December 14.

Howard A. Peters III, 2017 TASC Justice Leadership Award Honoree

TASC will present its Justice Leadership Award to Peters, who currently serves as vice chair of the Medicaid Advisory Committee under the Illinois Health and Human Services Transformation initiative. In his 40 years of public service, Peters has led the Illinois Department of Corrections and the Illinois Department of Human Services, and was appointed in 2015 by Governor Rauner to the Illinois State Commission on Criminal Justice and Sentencing Reform.

“For many the years, in settings where policy decisions are being made about justice reforms and healthcare access, Howard Peters has been an experienced and respected voice in the room,” said TASC President Pam Rodriguez. “He is a strong advocate for under-served communities and populations. Through his broad experience in both corrections and healthcare, he helps build consensus to improve policies and access to care.”

Nickel, who founded and leads the national Addiction Policy Forum, will receive TASC’s Public Voice Leadership Award. Nickel has been instrumental in shaping and advancing federal legislation to improve justice and support recovery, including the landmark Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act of 2016, which fights the opioid epidemic and supports front-end criminal justice diversion among its key provisions, and the groundbreaking Second Chance Act, which has seeded more than 700 local reentry initiatives across the country.

Jessica Nickel, 2017 TASC Public Voice Leadership Award Honoree

“Jessica Nickel is helping communities across the country make strides against addiction and its consequences,” said Rodriguez. “Through federal legislative initiatives and through the Addiction Policy Forum, she’s bringing forth practical solutions to help families and communities that want to know what works and what they can do.”

Rodriguez added, “We are thrilled to present our 2017 leadership awards to both Howard and Jessica.They each are thoughtful, committed leaders who inspire others.”

The 2017 TASC Leadership Awards Luncheon will take place at the Westin Michigan Avenue Chicago on Thursday, December 14 from 11:30 AM – 1:30 PM. Registration is requested by November 28. For sponsorship opportunities and additional information, please click here.

IACP and TASC Announce National Initiative to Combat the U.S. Opioid Epidemic and Mainstream Pre-Arrest Diversion Programs

(Chicago)  – The International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) and Treatment Alternatives for Safe Communities (TASC) have come together to promote an initiative to create robust alternative-to-arrest diversion programs for state, county, and local law enforcement agencies across the United States, in line with the White House announcement responding to the national opioid emergency.

The IACP/TASC collaboration seeks to greatly improve the means, ease, and speed with which law enforcement can partner with substance use and mental health treatment providers so that police can help people in need access treatment as rapidly as possible. This collaboration is particularly timely given the announced national opioid epidemic emergency. For example, “Naloxone Plus” models are specially designed for law enforcement and treatment partnerships to prevent future overdose deaths.

“At this critical time for our communities, law enforcement efforts to connect people with drug treatment could not have greater urgency,” said IACP President Donald De Lucca, chief of the Doral, Florida, Police Department. “Law enforcement officers, working side-by-side with treatment providers and community, will together help form the solution.”

To launch this effort, IACP and TASC will work through the Police, Treatment, and Community (PTAC) Collaborative, the first national effort to build a multi-disciplinary approach that ensures law enforcement, treatment professionals, and community members collaborate as equal partners to reduce crime in the United States.

The IACP and TASC initiative will: 1) identify the many variations on the concept of diversion across the United States, pinpointing programs with the most promising and measurable outcomes; 2) launch a significant nationwide pilot implementation approach using the identified promising models; 3) leverage the resources of the IACP Center for Police Research and Policy at the University of Cincinnati to measure and evaluate the results of the pilot implementation to ensure an evidenced-based approach; and 4) launch one of the largest pre-arrest diversion initiatives in the United States, seeking a sea change in policing (and justice) practices.

While diversion to treatment is not a new concept, this initiative adds a critical element that’s been missing: a dynamic and sustainable partnership that brings together TASC’s expertise in evidence-based responses to substance use and mental health disorders, along with IACP’s expansive and knowledgeable law enforcement network.

“We know from four decades of research and experience that formal connections to treatment can improve access and outcomes,” said Pam Rodriguez, president and CEO of TASC. “Across the U.S., prisoner reentry programs, court intervention programs, and prosecutorial diversion programs have proven successful for decades. Their lessons can be applied even earlier in the justice system—ideally before people even enter it.”

“This initiative can yield value across the U.S., including safer communities, healthier families, and officers returning home safely from duty,” said De Lucca.

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About TASC

TASC, Inc. has a 40-year history of bridging justice systems and community-based substance use treatment programs. Offering direct services to more than 20,000 people annually in Illinois, TASC works in partnership with law enforcement, courts, prisons, child welfare programs, and community-based service providers to implement evidence-based services that increase health and reduce recidivism.

About the IACP

The International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) is a professional association for law enforcement worldwide. For more than 120 years, the IACP has been launching internationally acclaimed programs, speaking on behalf of law enforcement, conducting groundbreaking research, and providing exemplary programs and services to members across the globe.

Today, the IACP continues to be recognized as a leader in these areas. By maximizing the collective efforts of the membership, IACP actively supports law enforcement through advocacy, outreach, education, and programs. Through ongoing strategic partnerships across the public safety spectrum, the IACP provides members with resources and support in all aspects of law enforcement policy and operations. These tools help members perform their jobs effectively, efficiently, and safely while also educating the public on the role of law enforcement to help build sustainable community relations.

About PTAC

 The Police, Treatment and Community Collaborative (PTAC Collaborative) was launched in April 2017 with a mission to strategically widen community behavioral health and social service options available through law enforcement diversion. The purpose of the PTAC Collaborative is to provide national vision, leadership, voice, and action to reframe the relationship between law enforcement, treatment, and community. PTAC promotes the development and dissemination of a wide variety of pre-arrest diversion efforts, not limited to any single approach. PTAC seeks to avoid issues of racial disparity in practice as pre-arrest diversion initiatives grow across the country. We welcome the participation of representatives from law enforcement and other criminal justice entities, behavioral health, research, community, advocacy and related organizations in any of the strategic areas.