Governor Quinn Signs Legislation to Improve Access to Behavioral Health Care

ARLINGTON HEIGHTS–(ENEWSPF)–August 18, 2011. Governor Pat Quinn today signed new laws designed to improve the quality of life for those needing behavioral health services and ensure equal access to necessary treatments. During a ceremony at the Alexian Brothers Center for Mental Health, the Governor signed House Bill 1530, which requires insurance companies to provide parity in coverage for mental health and substance abuse disorders, and House Bill 2982, which will help the state build regional networks to improve behavioral health care throughout Illinois. The laws build upon Illinois’ efforts to ensure equal access to health care for Illinois residents and coordinate care to improve outcomes.

“When we talk about access to health care, we want to make sure that we are including all types of care,” Governor Quinn said. “No one should be forced to forgo critical mental health care because of where they live or because their insurance charges more for the necessary treatment. These laws will increase equality throughout the state and advance our goal to improve the health of all Illinois residents.”

House Bill 1530, sponsored by Rep. Lou Lang (D-Skokie) and Sen. Willie Delgado (D-Chicago), establishes mental health parity among health insurance policies. Insurance companies must now provide the same coverage for mental health and substance abuse disorders that they provide for all other conditions. Insurers are prevented from including additional barriers within the policy – such as financial requirements, treatment limitations, lifetime limits or annual limits – to treatments for mental, emotional, nervous and substance abuse disorders if no such stipulations exist for other health conditions. Illinois’ new law exceeds the requirements of the recently-enacted federal mental health parity law, and was a recommendation of the Governor’s Health Care Reform Implementation Council.

The Mental Health Services Strategic Planning Task Force is created under House Bill 2084, sponsored by Rep. Fred Crespo (D-Hoffman Estates) and Sen. Michael Noland (D-Elgin). The task force will develop a comprehensive strategic plan for the state’s mental health and developmental disabilities services. The plan will address issues impacting mental health and developmental disabilities services, including: reducing regulatory redundancy; improving access to care; ensuring quality of care in all settings; and ensuring hospital and institutional care is available, when necessary, to meet demands now and in the future.

Senate Bill 1584, sponsored by Sen. Maggie Crotty (D-Oak Forest) and Rep. Al Riley (D-Olympia Fields), sets up community health advisory committees for counties and townships that have not already established community health boards. The legislation requires counties with less than 3,000,000 people and townships within counties with a population greater than 3,000,000 to appoint a volunteer seven-member health advisory committee made up of members of the general public if no community health board exists.

Additionally, on Monday, Governor Quinn signed House Bill 2982, sponsored by Rep. Joe Sosnowski (R-Rockford) and Sen. Dave Syverson (R-Rockford), which creates Regional Integrated Behavioral Health Networks across Illinois to ensure and improve access to appropriate mental health and substance abuse services throughout the state, especially in rural communities. The networks will bring together relevant health, mental health, substance abuse entities and other community partners to coordinate services and ensure that each community’s behavioral health needs are being met.

These bills align with the goals of the State Health Improvement Plan (SHIP). The SHIP calls for Illinois to improve access to comprehensive health-related services, enhance data and information technology in the healthcare sectors, address the social factors affecting health and health disparities, manage and improve the public health system, and ensure sufficient workforce in the healthcare and public health fields. The SHIP is prevention-focused and centered on the following priority health concerns: alcohol/tobacco; use of illicit drugs/misuse of legal drugs; mental health; environment; obesity (including nutrition and physical activity); oral health; patient safety and quality, and unintentional injury and violence.

Also signed today, Senate Bill 1837, sponsored by Sen. Tom Johnson (R-West Chicago) and Rep. Mike Fortner (R-West Chicago), gives the Kane County Mental Health Court the authority to work with accredited mental health service providers to provide necessary services to defendants. It also requires the mental health court to assess its effectiveness and submit a report on the impact it has on reducing the number of mentally-ill people admitted into the state’s correctional system. The Kane County Mental Health Court was launched in February 2006 to reduce future criminal activity and improve public safety by preventing repeated incarceration of mentally ill, non-violent offenders.

Governor Quinn also approved House Bill 1317, sponsored by Rep. Crespo and Sen. Noland, which assists individuals with serious behavioral disorders and other disabilities by excusing them permanently from jury duty. Those seeking to be excluded from jury lists must present written proof from a licensed physician concluding that the individual has a total and permanent disability that prevents performance of the duties of a juror. The legislation mandates county boards, jury administrators and jury commissioners to create and maintain a list of persons to be permanently excluded jury lists.

House Bills 2084 and 1530 are effective immediately. House Bills 1317 and 2982 and Senate Bill 1837 take effect Jan. 1.