Rauner calls federal approval of mental health money a historic health victory

SHARE Rauner calls federal approval of mental health money a historic health victory

Gov. Bruce Rauner speaks at a news conference Monday also featuring, left to right, Lt. Gov. Evelyn Sanguinetti; state Rep. Patti Bellock, R-Hinsdale; state Rep. LaShawn Ford, D-Chicago; Felicia Norwood, director of the state Department of Healthcare and Family Services, and Maria Bruni, acting director of the state Department of Human Services’s alcoholism and substance abuse division. Photo by Tina Sfondeles.

Gov. Bruce Rauner on Monday announced the federal government has approved a state Medicaid waiver that will allow community-based service providers to provide more care for patients with substance abuse and other mental health problems.

The waiver, which was more than two years in the making and includes 10 pilot programs, will provide services that are not currently covered by Medicaid, Felicia Norwood, director of the state Department of Healthcare and Family Services, said Monday at a West Side press conference. And it’s aimed at getting patients continual care instead of having them go to pricey emergency rooms or institutions.

“I personally believe this is maybe one of the most important days in the history of public health for the state of Illinois, anywhere in our state’s history,” Rauner said.

The initial focus of the program will be behavioral health, both mental health and substance abuse, and that was chosen “due to the urgency of the issue as well as the potential financial and human impact,” the state’s department of Healthcare and Family Services said in a fact sheet. The goals are to help stem the opioid epidemic, reduce violent crime and violent encounters with police and improve maternal and child health.

The pilots include residential and inpatient treatment for those with substance abuse issues; a withdrawal management services program; case management for those with substance abuse disorders; a peer recovery support services program; crisis intervention; home visiting services for postpartum patients and for Medicaid eligible newborn infants born with withdrawal symptoms; community integration; employment services; intensive in-home services for those ages 3 to 21; and respite services to provide families relief to help prevent stressful situations.

According to the governor’s office, 24 percent of the state’s 750,000 Medicaid population have behavioral health conditions, and they account for 52 percent of Medicaid spending.

The waiver means that beginning July 1, Illinois can use $2 billion in federal funds on 10 pilot programs aimed at helping Medicaid patients with drug and mental health needs. The waiver runs up to five years and can be renewed or changed.

The announcement came with bipartisan support. Speaking alongside Rauner, state Rep. La Shawn Ford, D-Chicago, called the program “change that we’ve been waiting for.” And he thanked Rauner for assembling “a great team of leaders.” And in a governor’s office press release, state Sen. Heather Steans, D-Chicago, also congratulated the governor for his work in securing the waiver.

Other Democrats were a bit more careful with their words.

“The devil is always in the details, but the long-awaited waiver has finally arrived,” state Rep. Sara Feigenholtz, D-Chicago, said in a statement. “I look forward to sifting through it to strengthen health care delivery and our safety net.”

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